I caught a 2:00 showing today of “My Week With Marilyn,” and I’m not quite sure how one can love and despise a movie equally. Alas, that is exactly what’s happening to me.
A quick synopsis of the story: In 1956 Marilyn Monroe travels to England to film “The Prince and The Showgirl” with Sir Laurence Olivier, who stars as the prince, and who also serves as the film’s director. Marilyn has just married Arthur Miller, her third husband. Colin Clark (the film’s third producer) and Marilyn allegedly have an affair lasting about a week, and then Marilyn returns home to America.
There are serious issues with the plot. Many believe that this affair never even occurred, and it’s merely a story conjured up by Clark. Allegedly, even Clark’s own brother stated the story is fiction. Interestingly, Clark wrote two different books about his stint as third producer on the film, and I’ve heard and read that both books are quite different, even though they both focus on Clark’s time on the set of TPATS. The first book left out the week in question entirely. The second writing recorded the alleged affair. I should point out that I have read neither of the books written by Colin Clark. However, after seeing MWWM, they’ve both moved to the top of my list.
I’ll state that I don’t for a minute believe there was ever an affair, which was the entire premise for the story, and thus this film. It doesn’t seem realistic to me that Marilyn would have done this. She was in London on her honeymoon after all, and even though she had read Miller’s diary in which he wrote words that broke her heart, it just seems implausible that Marilyn Monroe would have had an affair, on her honeymoon (even after reading her husband’s diary in which he writes about her negatively), while she’s filming a movie in a foreign country, having terrible struggles with her costar and director, with a third producer six or seven years her junior. Good grief, we all know Marilyn sought older men in her life, those that could serve as father figures. This was the case with all three of her husbands, not to mention Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra and many others.
With it now established that I believe this story is rubbish, I’ll write about what I loved about the film, and also what I didn’t.
WHAT I LOVED:
Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe exiting the plane after landing in London (photo above). This is when we first see Williams as Monroe. The camera focuses on the open door to the plane, and Williams appears as Marilyn, and it’s rather magical. In my mind I thought, “There she is.” The crowds erupt, cameras flash, and Marilyn walks down the stairs, coat over her shoulders, bouquet in hand. Williams captures Marilyn Monroe in this scene, but unfortunately not in many others.
Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina: Quite simply, Williams nailed it. There were times during MWWM when I simply could not believe how much like Marilyn (as Elsie) Williams actually was. The portrayal of Marilyn as Elsie was stunning. Reviews I’ve read have slammed Williams’ portrayal of Marilyn as Elsie, but I disagree entirely. With that said, I would HOPE that Williams would be able to capture Marilyn as Elsie, because this is what we see in the original 1957 feature film: Marilyn portraying Elsie.
Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe near the end of the film: Williams as Marilyn seeks out Clark to say goodbye before she returns to the US. In this scene, we see a confident Marilyn, and to me at least, a Marilyn that is more realistic in nature. Readers of this review will note in the “What I Didn’t Love” section below that I am less than enthused with Williams’ portrayal of Marilyn throughout the entire film, minus the three areas listed above.
Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier and Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike: Both rendered superb performances. To me, I’m seeing a good actor when I forget the actor I’m watching, and I see the person he or she is portraying. This certainly was the case with Branagh. He was Olivier, literally. Dench delivered a stellar performance, the nature of which we’ve all come to expect from her. Both will likely receive Oscar nominations, as well they should in my opinion.
The Monroe / Olivier relationship: It’s been well documented that Marilyn and Larry Olivier struggled when working together on TPATS. MWWM captures those struggles, and we get some idea of what it must have been like on set each day. It wasn’t pretty.
Production Value: It’s clear this was a high budget film. The sets were lavish, and the costumes were realistic. The dress Marilyn wore as Elsie Marina was reproduced for Michelle Williams, and it was quite good as a replica. Other costumes Williams wears in the film are also quite realistic, resembling clothing that Marilyn actually wore. The cars used in the film appeared to be from the period, and all was quite believable. The sets from TPATS were reproduced for MWWM and they were very realistic. One could believe they were actually watching the film being made back in 1956.
WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE:
Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, the practically suicidal broken waif: Throughout the majority of the film, Williams portrays a Marilyn that I’m not sure ever existed: A weak, slow, downtrodden, perpetually suffering, blubbering, annoying airhead. The Marilyn portrayed in the film in no way resembles the confident movie star who just a year earlier broke away from Fox studios to form her own production company in New York City. It baffles my mind how it came to be that this was the Marilyn portrayed in MWWM, because it just doesn’t seem possible that this is actually who and how Marilyn was. This isn’t a slam on Williams’ acting. I’m just not sure how it came to be realized that this was the way Marilyn was to be portrayed, because it was all wrong. With that said, kudos to Williams for taking on this role. It certainly can’t be easy being Marilyn Monroe.
The opening and closing scenes: The film opens with a few lines of written text, with the last line of text reading something along the lines of, “This is their true story.” (Really?) The opening of the film shows Williams as Marilyn in a dress similar to the Jean Luis gown she wore to the JFK gala, and Marilyn sings “Heat Wave” from “No Business Like Show Business.”
In the closing scene, Williams as Marilyn sings “That Old Black Magic” from “Bus Stop,” but she’s wearing a black sequined dress. Neither of these scenes are authentic, and they just didn’t work.
The portrayal of Milton Greene: Milton is portrayed as controlling, domineering and Marilyn’s drug dealer. It’s quite well known that he was fully invested in his relationship with Marilyn and the the company they had formed. It’s beyond me why he wasn’t portrayed in a more positive light, especially where there are still people alive today, Amy Greene specifically, who could have testified to the nature of the Monroe / Greene relationship before, during and after TPATS.
The story itself: As I’ve already stated, this story is rubbish. It’s just highly unlikely that there was some kind of affair between Marilyn Monroe and this “gofer” on the set. I find it utterly upsetting that the story is being touted as true to life, when there is no one around who can vouch for its accuracy. In fact, people from the film who are still alive today are questioning the relationship. Vera Day, who played Marilyn’s friend Betty in TPATS has doubt on the alleged relationship between Colin Clark and Marilyn Monroe. She recently said the following in a report published by The Daily Beast:
“I didn’t witness anything between Marilyn and Colin Clark [as in the film]. I actually don’t remember him on the set at all. There weren’t any rumblings of them being together on set. She was very, very into Arthur Miller, and they were on their honeymoon. Goodness me, no. Whatever he said about that … I mean, I can’t accuse him of lying, but I very much doubt there was anything going on there. She was with [Miller] all the time, and when she wasn’t she was working, and he was on the set all the time with her.”
My overall impressions of MWWM are mixed. There are parts of the film I really loved, yet parts that in my opinion are truly dreadful and questionable. With that said, I encourage all Marilyn Monroe fans to check out the film and come to their own conclusions. I will say that I think acting by Williams, Branagh and Dench is quite spectacular (even though I still don’t know who exactly Williams was portraying in most scenes) and I won’t be at all surprised if the lot of them are nominated for Oscars.
So, what did YOU think of MWWM? Let me know!