A great big slab of middlebrow fan-fiction, TV director Simon Curtis’ adaptation of Colin Clark’s seriously suspect memoir follows the template of 2009’s Me And Orson Welles as a banal, star-fucking wish-fulfillment fantasy for movie buffs.
The charmless Eddie Redmayne stars as Clark, an idealistic simp with silver screen dreams, who, much to the consternation of his upper-crust parents, runs off and begs to work for free on Sir Laurence Olivier’s next picture, The Prince And The Showgirl. Olivier, played with what looks like a prosthetic chin by a hammy Kenneth Branagh, just cast bombshell Marilyn Monroe as his co-star, assuming this will mean he gets to sleep with her.
Michelle Williams, an actress apparently incapable of giving a bad performance, is the picture’s lonely saving grace. The Monroe va-va-voom is very clearly just another one of Norma Jean’s costume changes, and the real pleasure of Williams’ work is watching her flip her sex-kitten routine on and off like a light switch. Deep down she’s needy, fragile and desperately in over her head. Monroe longs to be taken seriously, hence the already sputtering marriage to Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) and a determination to bring her acting teacher Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) along to coach every last line reading on this increasingly miserable set.
One can’t help wondering what a serious movie about Marilyn Monroe might have been like with the fearless Williams in the role. Alas, we’re stuck watching the masturbatory fancies of Redmayne’s non-entity, as Clark inexplicably becomes Marilyn’s favorite confidant, and the two take long walks in the woods, talking about their dreams. My bullshit detector was ringing off the hook long before these two went skinny dipping.
Naturally, our hero always happens to be situated in the perfect position to overhear crucial conversations, and there’s a hint of what the film could have been in Olivier’s consternation that all his classical training can’t quite translate to the camera, while the unprofessional starlet just has “it”—whatever that may be.
But My Week With Marilyn works overtime to keep insights like that at a pleasant remove. Incessant tinkly piano music and wispy fabrications are the order of the day. Williams, and Monroe for that matter, deserve better.
2014 Films: The Year’s Most Likely