"I'm a failure as a woman. My men expect so much of me, because of the image they've made of me — and that I've made of myself — as a sex symbol. They expect bells to ring and whistles to whistle, but my anatomy is the same as any other woman's and I can't live up to it." - Marilyn Monroe
Edgar Allan Poe said that the death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world. Was there ever a more beautiful or more tragic figure than Marilyn Monroe? No wonder popular culture is obsessed with her and her life, apocryphal. There's an entire wing in the Hollywood Museum, Los Angeles dedicated to her-- from her famous dresses to her infamous pill box. But too much space has been dedicated to the conspiracies surrounding her death, her affairs, scandals and her larger-than-life image and too little to her mundane and human facets. My Week With Marilyn attempts to set that right, by portraying her as a vulnerable, deeply insecure woman with oscillating desires for success on the one hand and the simple life on the other.
The thing is, I've never been particularly interested in Marilyn Monroe. I've seen a few of her comedies and frankly, I don't know what the fuss is all about. I think her best roles are that two-bit part in All About Eve and her role in How to Marry a Millionaire-- both times when the film did not rest solely on her shapely shoulders. But in 1957, Marilyn went to London to star in The Prince and the Show Girl, directed by Lawrence Olivier and managed to captivate and exasperate an entire nation. Told from the perspective of a young, lovestruck lackey on the film set, My Week With Marilyn details the joys and pitfalls of shooting a film with Marilyn (played by Michelle Williams): her notorious war on punctuality, her relationship with the Strasbergs, Olivier and her then-husband Arthur Miller and most importantly, her many insecurities. But the film is as much about her as it is about Lawrence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Dame Sybil Thorndike and of course, Colin Clark.
Kenneth Branagh shines as Lawrence Olivier. He represents a last bastion of traditional acting disciplines in the changing face of cinema. He delivers his cutting dialogues with such precision and style that he simply stole the show every time he was on screen. Even in a scene where he is a mere spectator on a set, where Marilyn is shooting an adorable scene that is so quintessentially her, I only had eyes for him as he watches her with so much hate and admiration. Poor Michelle on the other hand-- it is admirable that she ably fulfilled her brief in playing such an iconic figure and was perfectly adequate. But nothing more.
This film does not take upon the daunting task defining Marilyn's life and does not try to be a biopic. It is just an idyll from her short but tumultuous life. What an effect she had on people! Olivier feared her and the generation she represented; Vivien Leigh envied Marilyn who was in the bloom of her youth and fame, while she herself stood at the brink of old age and faded glory; Arthur Miller was never sure if he wanted Marilyn or Norma Jeane for wife; and the many studio bosses who wanted to exploit her and her overwhelming sexuality. How lonely it must have been for her, to only be surrounded by sycophants, the envious and lustful men.
I really also must make a mention of the stunning outfits. Clothes madeth the Marilyn as much as her nude photographs, and the attention to detail stands this film in good stead. Now that the Mad Men fervour has petered out, resurgence of Marilyn in popular conscience (what with the new TV musical show Smash), the 50s may just make their comeback on the ramps.
All in all, it was a pleasing, elegant film that neither elevated Marilyn to Goddess-status nor painted her as an entitled dumb blonde. It managed to convey the idea that all the frenzy that surrounded her was our doing, while all she wanted was to be taken seriously. I'll let the infinitely quotable Marilyn have the last word, but do read it while listening to this wonderfully poignant song about Hollywood by the Kinks:
"Please don't make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe. I don't mind making jokes, but I don't want to look like one... I want to be an artist, an actress with integrity... If fame goes by, so long, I've had you, fame. If it goes by, I've always known it was fickle. So at least it's something I experienced, but that's not where I live."