My Week with Marilyn — opening postponed at press time

Our rating:

In the on-screen notes that close out My Week With Marilyn, in which Michelle Williams portrays Marilyn Monroe at work on the British production The Prince and the Showgirl, we learn what became of the principal characters.

After Showgirl, Monroe was in Some Like it Hot, which this film’s notes points out was extremely popular. We learn that Laurence Olivier, her Showgirl director and co-star, gave one of his most acclaimed performances on stage. And then we’re told that Colin Clark, the young man whose dalliance with Monroe is the centerpiece of the movie, “achieved international acclaim” later in his career.

Depending on your point of view, there is something either sloppy or sinister at work here. These descriptions of the lives of Monroe and co. after the Week in question have no insight; they’re just observations about popularity. Success, they seem to say, speaks for itself. This is not only a rotten viewpoint, but an impractical one. After all, if popularity were a useful guide, we’d all be able to subsist on Big Macs and Diet Cokes.

These endnotes betray My Week With Marilyn‘s overall problem and its intellectual slovenliness. It’s an almost aggressive exercise in telling its audience things it already knows: Monroe was a troubled abuser of alcohol and pills who had trouble staying in devoted relationships and behaving professionally on movie sets. She was also a total knockout, born for the screen, without parallel in the art of being looked at.

Director Simon Curtis and writer Adrian Hodges, working from the two (!) books that Colin Clark wrote about his few days with Monroe, make a halfhearted play at that last bit, juxtaposing the unteachable skill of Monroe’s radiance with Olivier’s theatrical training and ability to quote The Tempest off the top of his head. And the edge of the frame is occasionally littered with the covers of Monroe’s bedtime reading, hinting at an intelligence (or a desire for one) that viewers might not associate with Monroe (reviews of recently published Monroe diaries highlighted this).

But My Week is overwhelmingly, and yawningly, an exercise in mythologizing the mythical. Williams saunters through the frame, tripping over dropped jaws and leaving stunned gazes in her wake. There is one single soul in England in 1956 who doesn’t grovel at the hem of Monroe’s garment, and he’s recruited by Showgirl producers to be her bodyguard. While he never swoons, he grows protective; we couldn’t possibly have him continue the sin of not really giving a shit.

Reinforcing pre-existing ideas that are already the norm in the popular consciousness is not only the opposite of what fairly small movies like this should do; it’s genuinely threatening to a healthy culture of art-making. My Week With Marilyn is not only unimaginative and lazy, it encourages the acts of being unimaginative and lazy. Fortunately, it’s not effective or well-made enough to make any lasting impressions, but that doesn’t mean its sentiments are any less inartistic or offensive.