My Week With Marilyn

a film by Simon Curtis

There has been a lot of talk about the casting of Michelle Williams to play Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn - most of it in a rather unfavorable mood. Her hips are not big enough. Her breasts are not big enough. Her frame is not voluptuous enough. Now all of this may be true, but one must have hope in the acting chops of Ms. Williams. The thirty-year-old actress's ability to pull off such challenging roles as those in Brokeback Mountain, Wendy and Lucy and Blue Valentine, should easily attest to how powerful an actor hides away inside that somewhat tiny frame. Many have portrayed famous figures without resembling them all that much, and many have pulled such a feat off. Of course in this particular situation, Williams must portray one of the most well-known celebrities on Earth - even now, nearly fifty years after her death.

In the end though, all the fighting and fussing over Williams playing the icon Ms. Norma Jeane Baker, was for naught, because the actress manages to, at least in part, pull the whole thing off. Williams may not have the physicality of Marilyn (though the idea of a woman's body was a bit larger than the supermodel thin era of today, many exaggerate Marilyn's size to make it seem even a bigger difference), but she does seem to get the vulnerability inherent in the role, and she uses this aspect to create a version of Marilyn that we rarely ever got to see on screen. Of course, no matter what the acting chops are on some one, there is probably no real way to portray Marilyn that could honestly capture either her on screen or off screen persona. Williams gives it a gallant effort, and succeeds in part, but the role is probably too much for anyone.

Marilyn has rarely gotten the respect she deserves as an actress. Thought of as mere sex symbol, or as iconic legend, the fact that she was quite adept at both comedy and drama often gets overlooked. Marilyn had a certain je ne sais quoi that captured the hearts and minds of millions of fans. Inside, the actress was a mixed-up, insecure mess of a human being who had been tossed around from childhood on, and it is in this complexity that makes her so difficult to capture. As I said, Williams does do an admirable job in capturing the inner turmoil of Marilyn, even without looking all that much like Marilyn (though there are several shots/angles where she does, albeit momentarily come off as a dead ringer), and this is a testament to, if nothing else, the young actress's abilities.

Of course no matter how good Williams may end up being in this almost impossible role, she can only do so much when working within the confines of such a typically middlebrow script and such mediocre directing. Kenneth Branagh, playing Laurence Olivier, suffers the same fate as Williams (even moreso since his portrayal is not as impossible as Williams'), as his bravura performance is overshadowed (or is that undershadowed?) by the usual blandness that is the bane of existence for the biopic genre. Perhaps no one can ever accurately capture someone like Marilyn Monroe, even if they are as talented as Michelle Williams, but I suppose, at least in the quite ordinary My Week With Marilyn, we will never know for sure. [12/05/11]