My Week With Marilyn may be the Guy Equivalent of a Chick Flick: if we accept the concept that this kind of movie is meant to cause its target audience to wallow in mushy feelings, while the opposite sex looks on in bewilderment and contempt. Truthfully, about the only enjoyment I can imagine a woman getting from this picture lies — perhaps — in watching men make fools of themselves.
Which doesn’t mean that this isn’t a beautiful movie — it is: beautiful to look at, with beautiful performances all up and down. Whether it’s true or not is anyone’s guess… but it has the ring of truth, even if some specific scenes or details are one hundred percent made up.
At the ground-floor level it details the making of The Prince and The Showgirl, a lighter-than-air bit of sex-fantasy fluff directed by Sir Laurence Olivier, and starring him opposite Marilyn Monroe. The sad fact of The Prince and The Showgirl is expressed in one line of dialogue here: Olivier was a Great Actor who desperately wanted to be a Film Star, while Monroe was a Film Star who desperately wanted to be a Great Actor — and The Prince and The Showgirl didn’t give either one of them what they wanted.
Off-screen, Marilyn behaved like her usual difficult self, a fish out of water who was not helped by any of the people she surrounded herself with, least of all Paula Strasberg (played wonderfully here by Zoe Wanamaker). Meanwhile, a young man named Colin (Freddie Redmayne), the unsuccessful black sheep in his well-to-do family, has insinuated himself into a job as Third Assistant Director (really a Go-pher) in Olivier’s company… and Marilyn takes a shine to him.
With this development evident to everyone, both Olivier and Monroe begin using the young man to get what they want. Olivier simply wants Monroe to show up on time and say her lines, while the thing Monroe wants is simply to be adored.
Her marriage to Arthur Miller is just a few weeks old and already beginning to fall apart. Her nervous disposition (made worse by booze, pills and fawning sycophants) causes all manner of difficulty on the set … and Olivier makes no effort whatever to conceal his irritation and contempt, which makes matters still worse.
Thus Colin, the young “Third-Assistant Director,” is reeled deeper and deeper into Monroe’s web. He has a genuinely sympathetic nature that is just exactly what Monroe needs to feed upon, and exactly what opens him up to her attack. Although he has the brash audacity to have insinuated himself into his position, when it comes to women he’s a stark novice, literally naked and defenseless.
I use the metaphors advisedly, because Marilyn does come off as more than a little bit of a monster here. Although really desperately and genuinely Needy, she is well aware of her effect on others and more than willing to use every seductive tool in her kit to get what she wants. If this isn’t the textbook definition of a Vampire, I don’t know what is.
Michelle Williams is flat-out astonishing as Monroe, more channeling than playing her, with the result that although we can see how Marilyn is manipulating the events and everyone around her, we can’t help but acknowledge that we, too, would be willingly manipulated by her if we only had the opportunity. Still, she doesn’t steal the show, in part because there’s so much going on, and so many agendas in play. Kenneth Branagh looks almost nothing like Olivier, still he evokes Olivier except when trying to show Olivier acting: it seems only Olivier himself could do that.
It all ends exactly the way you expect it to end, and the way that you know it will end. There’s a heavy sense of nostalgia to the picture, cut by the low cunning of the players, and by the young man’s philosophical nature: blaming no one but himself, and not regretting anything, even for an instant, even as love will be a little spoiled for him now, forever after.