Review: Great Performances, Weak Story Muddle “My Week With Marilyn”

In 1956, shortly after her (doomed) marriage to Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe headed across the pond to film "The Princess and the Showgirl" opposite the great Sir Laurence Olivier, each hoping a little of the other's magic would rub off on them. It was during this time that Monroe spent a week with a young director's assistant, Colin Clark, stealing furtive kisses and sharing a bed on one occasion. As luck would have, Mr. Clark kept a diary, which he would later turn into a pair of memoirs.

"My Week With Marilyn," based on Clark's books "The Prince, The Showgirl and Me: The Colin Clark Diaries" and "My Week With Marilyn," stars Michelle Williams as the titular sex goddess, Eddie Redmayne as Clark, and the great Kenneth Branagh as Olivier—really, who else alive could take that role?

First things first—Williams makes an amazing transformation, beautifully capturing Monroe's childlike effervescence and drugged-addled confusion. Her body type is all wrong, and they look alike in only the most rudimentary sense, but with a pout or bite of a finger, and her breathy voice, Williams makes you forget all that.

But it's Redmayne who's actually the star of the film, not that he outclasses Williams, but this is a story about Clark's time with Monroe, not Monroe's' time with Clark. Redmayne, too, is fantastic as Clark, a young wide-eyed fanboy eager to please and make his way in showbiz.

The leads are great, as is the supporting cast—Branagh, Judy Dench, Julia Ormond—and Simon Curtis has a strong eye in the director's chair, but it's the story that is the demise of "My Week With Marilyn." It's impossible to tell whether it's the fault of Curtis or screenwriter Adrian Hodges, or if the real story was simply not that compelling.

Clark was surely one of hundreds (thousands?) of men who, for however briefly, thought they had a shot at bedding Monroe. This is not to suggest that Monroe was a roundheel, rather her lack of guile and duplicity no doubt confused many, many men. But it's never made clear to us what's special about Clark's encounter with her.

The most intriguing part of the "Week" is Monroe's relationship with acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wannamaker), who was controlling and enabling to the point of suffocating the star. Now that's a story that would be worth telling.

With not much new to tell us about Monroe or ourselves, "My Week With Marilyn" plays out like a well-told story with no third act.

"My Week With Marilyn" opens everywhere November 23rd

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