Movie Review: An Elegy to Marilyn Monroe, Full of Pretenders

There’s a silver lining to Simon Curtis’ sloppy, nostalgic, hopelessly earnest elegy (sort of) to Marilyn Monroe, My Week with Marilyn. Watching Michelle Williams do her very best impersonation of one of the few celebrities who we can truly call “iconic” (with much thanks to Mr. Warhol), we are nothing if reminded what an ineffable, uncategorical vixen Monroe actually was. Beauty doesn’t describe it. Williams has beauty, she also has passable Marilyn features, from the soft, perfect skin to the puffy lips, and the pendulum hips. In Curtis’ film, William’s is made up to look and dress, tip-toe and whimper like Marilyn.

But it is what isn’t there that is most distracting, and what isn’t there is also very difficult to describe. It’s the fingerprint of her personality – that beguiling something that looked like mere sexiness, yet radiated out from somewhere else. Marilyn Monroe makes you feel like the phrase, Je ne sais quoi, was invented to describe her. Without that very particular sharpness, Williams’ wit, look, and swagger just feel pedestrian. So, you could say Curtis’ first fatal mistake was thinking he could make a film based around a character whose most essential quality – her charm – is impossible to replicate. Nearly every scene with Williams’ Monroe plays flatter than it should, and to make matters worse, Curtis’ surrounds his lady with cheap, paltry, and dull characters.

Chief of the dullards is Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a young, impressionable errand boy who works for the office of Sir Laurence Oliver (Kenneth Branagh – wink, wink). Clark wants to make movies, so, with a little help from his upper crust connections, he wills his way onto the set of Olivier’s latest film, a stage comedy staring the Shakespearean master the American starlet that is intended to both revive his career and deepen hers. It’s a win win, only Marilyn, arriving with her newest husband, playwright Arthur Miller, and her intrusive acting coach, is difficult to get on set and even more difficult to direct.

When Clark’s chin isn’t on the floor dripping drool, he drives about making sure life on the set is as amicable as possible. This ends up leading the boy into a few candid encounters with the actress, until suddenly he is dashing off with her through the dreamy English countryside. Like the entirety of the movie, it is adolescent fantasy at its most artistically hopeless: full of shades and facsimiles of everything from character to emotion.