Imagine a young man enamored with a girl for the first time--he introduces her to some family members, accidentally walks in on her changing, takes her hand and escorts her to the car, and is talked into skinny dipping. Now imagine that the girl is Marilyn Monroe. Changes things a bit, doesn't it? Such is the wonder and fluff of My Week with Marilyn, the movie based on the true story of Colin Clark, who began his career in film as a third assistant director (a.k.a. gofer) on the film Monroe did with Sir Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). The movie is so airy that even the slightest breeze would blow it away, but it is firmly anchored by incredible performances.
As an innocent coming-of-age tale, the movie is much less satisfying than seeing it as an exclusive, never-before-seen perspective on the world's most famous sexual dynamo. I should mention I made a huge mistake in reading the book first, which was flimsy enough to begin with. I read it hungry for scandal and gossip, but was met only with a tender and very polite retelling of a dignified few days in this young man's life. He's British, after all. So this is the real deal that even the book jacket won't tell you: Marilyn and Colin don't run away together or engage in anything shocking. He merely becomes her life preserver in a time she was particularly adrift behind enemy lines (a.k.a. Lawrence Olivier's rather unsympathetic set). Then, as quickly as it began, it ends. Since I came armed with all the details books can provide that movies have to gloss over, the movie felt like cotton candy.
Fortunately, the paper-thin story is boosted by the talented cast. Michelle Williams had such a tough job being Marilyn Monroe, it's to her credit that she even took on the role. She completely nails it, and becomes every bit as entrancing as the real Marilyn was onscreen. In fact, there wasn't nearly enough of her in the picture. It's been a long time since I first saw Some Like It Hot, and this movie reminded me why audiences all over the world couldn't get enough of her. Kenneth Branagh is as charmingly grumpy as she is effervescent, bringing in a bunch of surprising laughs and comments on the acting profession. And while we're at it, everybody's favorite Dame, Judi Dench, deserves her own spinoff movie as Dame Sybil Thorndike, the famous British actress. Her kind and gracious spirit gave the movie tons of warmth.
Past the exposition of the beginning, you begin to see that fame isn't all it's cracked up to be, which helps melt away the persona of Marilyn and turn her into a real person. You can see in Michelle Williams' eyes how painful it is to be surrounded by business partners, lawyers, acting coaches, and husbands who tiptoe around her like she's made of glass when all she wants is to be cuddled. When faced with someone like Colin who doesn't have a stake in her fame, she gets to be who she really is, and this is when the film really gets interesting. There's not enough of it in the entire film to make this a perfect movie, but it's one of the more interesting "boy meets girl, boy loses girl (to Arthur Miller)" flicks.