When the first images of Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe surfaced, eyebrows were inevitably raised. Despite her considerable talents, Williams has been known for dour roles that require none of the bubbly magnetism that Monroe was so famous for. Therefore, it's arguable that whether or not My Week with Marilyn is mild success or a small failure, because it's certainly not going to be remembered for much in a few years time.
Taken from two (reportedly) factual accounts, Simon Curtis' film revolves around Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a recent college grad who longs to work in the film business. He manages to find a job on The Sleeping Prince (which would eventually become The Prince and the Showgirl), starring Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and the titular Monroe. As Olivier and Monroe's acting styles clash on set, Colin starts to develop a bond with Monroe.
It's certainly a story rife with potential for quite a bit of nostalgic fun. And, thankfully, we've been spared the Greatest Hits type of treatment that sank Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar. Unfortunately, since the story ultimately centers on Colin, Marilyn sometimes feels kept at a distance. It's probably the biggest obstacle the movie has to overcome, and it's what keeps the whole thing from being anything more than a light dramedy. Instead of delving deep into Monroe's difficulty with handling Olivier's drastically different style, and her intense self-consciousness and need for approval, we only get the vaguest hints. The deepest sentiments the film can offer are when Marilyn tells Colin (her face wet with tears), "People don't see me; all they see is Marilyn Monroe." Depth isn't exactly the name of the game here.
But even if the script is too lightweight to make the most out of its subject matter, at the very least Williams deserves credit for not coming off like a bad Saturday Night Live impersonation. She's doing the best she can with the material she's given, though unfortunately she's left playing Marilyn the starlet more often than Marilyn the imperfect human being. Thankfully, Williams is able to capture some of Monroe's magic when performing her scenes for the movie within the movie. It's a shame, though, that Curtis' execution makes The Prince and the Showgirl look like something that belongs at the dawn of the sound era, rather than the mid-50s. Kenneth Branagh also has quite a bit of fun as Laurence Olivier. It's all a bit surface-y, although the actor does hit home runs in the handful of scenes that require more than flash.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said of Mr. Redmayne, though none of it is his fault. A talented actor in his own right (I, for one, can't wait to see him as Marius in Tom Hooper's Les Miserables this time next year), the role is such a bland audience-insert that there's little to be done. He's used as our guide into the world of show business, and to tear away the curtain between the magic of Hollywood and the behind-the-scenes conflict, but the film would have been better off not giving him as much attention as it does. This really should have been Marilyn's story, and by sticking so close to Clark's POV, the film feels like little more than a fancy-looking dessert that's lacking in flavor. It all goes down smooth enough, but once you're done you realize that it could have and should have been so much more.