A tone is set: nostalgia, reminiscing, youth.
On the surface, we watch a 23 year old Colin Clark progress from a "What would you like me to do?" attitude to "I want this, so I'm going to do this." In this way, My Week with Marilyn is a coming-of-age tale. When the movie's over, Colin's first job has ended. But the job is, in this film, a metaphor for love. As the film shows us that Colin's first job and his first love are irrevocably twined together. There's no dramatic firing or break-up. First Marilyn tells Colin what they've shared is done, she's going to be a good wife to Arthur Miller. A few minutes later, Laurence Olivier thanks Colin for his services and wishes him luck. Colin's innocent days are gone. He's experienced.
These experiences, a first job, a first love, are something we all go through. And we could look at My Week with Marilyn as a slice-of-life focusing specifically on this transitional stage. Look at several of the other characters though, and what you see is a movie revealing the fly ball trajectory of the adult life.
Director: Simon Curtis
Writer: Adrian Hodges
Colin Clark: Eddie Redmayne
Laurence Olivier: Kenneth Branagh
Olivier's wife, Vivien Leigh: Julia Ormond
Marilyn Monroe: Michelle Williams
Arthur Miller: Dougray Scott
Sybil Thorndike: Judi Dench
Cute costume girl: Emma Watson
Doesn't do much but cause tension when we'd otherwise have none: Dominic Cooper
This is unwarranted, but her character reminded me of Jafar, from Aladdin: Zoe Wanamaker
Shows up a lot lately: Toby Jones
Plays the bodyguard, but doesn't get a dramatic song sung for him: Philip Jackson
Look at the pictures at the top. In symbolic clockwise fashion we have the ladies of the film, youngest to oldest.
Lucy (Emma Watson) is, along with Colin, at the bottom of the totem pole. The two are the youngest characters we see in the film.
Next we have the 30 year old Marilyn Monroe. At the height of her fame.
To the left of MM's picture, there's Leigh. She was, at the time, in the fall of 1956, 42. (Though in the film she say's she's 43. Leigh's birthday was November 5th, and the weather, throughout the movie, seems way too pleasant for November/December).
Above Leigh, there's Sybil Thorndike. At 73, she's the oldest character in the movie.
Let's also throw in Olivier. He was, at this point, 49 years old. 30 years into his career. He had already been nominated for FIVE academy awards for best actor (won once).
Remember that fly ball trajectory?
Lucy and Colin mark the beginning of our trajectory. They're at similar points in their life. They're both young. They're both nobody special (especially with Olivier and Monroe running around). They start to date. To steal kisses while at work. What happens though? Colin gains in popularity. He gains the attention of Monroe.
Her life and its complications far exceed Colin's own. Her emotional drama, her popularity, her infamy, contrasts Colin's calm, his casual mirth and willing smile. And it's his calm, mirth, and smile that draws her to him. But its her beauty, her fragility, her popularity, and the way everyone seems to misunderstand her that tugs at Colin's heartstrings. He's sucked up into her life. There's no way he could bring her down to his. Which forces him to make decisions, to infuriate not just Milton Greene (Cooper) but also Olivier, whom, until this point, Colin has only ever tried to placate. This exposure to the problems created by insecurity, popularity, and forbidden romance, doomed romance, and the way Colin chooses to solve them, the fact that he tries to solve them, matures Colin.
The rest--Lucy, Monroe, Olivier, Leigh, Thorndike--are all static, are representatives of these various epochs on the trajectory.
Countering Colin's advancement is Olivier's lack of advancement.
There are three moments we should pay attention to.
The first comes shortly after Marilyn's arrival, at the introduction of Milton Green. From the screenplay:
The next two moments are both lines of dialogue. The first by Leigh.
This line sets up the viewer expectation that the elder icon Olivier will make moves on lamb Monroe. Why shouldn't he? He's Laurence fucking Olivier. But this doesn't happen. Instead, he ends up berating her like a father does his unruly teenage daughter. There's no charm. Olivier is a professional, set in his ways, expects things a certain way. When Monroe, young, unprofessionally selfish, shows up late, forgets her lines, runs away from scenes, breaks down, Olivier yells and freaks out. He's the veteran chastising the rookie. The old man, fuming, disgusted, saying "These kids these days..."
The seduction does not occur because Olivier is too rigid. He lacks the patience and the suppleness to handle someone like Monroe. Maybe in his younger days he could have...
Which is what we see with Colin. Olivier is a branch, stiff with age, that is continually breaking when stressed. Colin, at 23, has give, spring, yield.
The second quote is from Laurence himself:
Between Olivier and Monroe we have Leigh.
And Vivien recognizes it. She understands how insecure Marilyn is. So she approaches Marilyn. She says sweet things to her. Praises her.
Leigh will descend to Olivier's bitterness.
And beyond Olivier we have Sybil.
Altruism operates inversely to the sexual willingness. Which puts Sybil at the extreme range of altruistic action. In Marilyn's first scene the poor girl can't remember her lines. She's terrified, sputtering. Everyone is astounded. Olivier is pissed off. But what's Sybil do? She takes the blame. Then offers assistance.
What's Marilyn's altruistic act? Eh. It's a backhanded compliment. When Lucy confronts Colin about missing their date, Colin defends himself. Then Marilyn walks by.
What we see here is the border of altruism. Lucy doesn't stick up for any of the other women. Doesn't even converse with them. She's suspicious, first, of Leigh. Then of Marilyn. Lucy's on the antipole of feminine altruism. Which puts Marilyn in that gray middle.
We can imagine Dame Sybil Thorndike was there, way back when. She's been Lucy. She's been Colin. She's been Marilyn. She's been Vivien. She's been Olivier. She's watched her youth blossom, wilt, and vanish. If only all of us can arrive at that last station with the grace and charity she has.
I would argue the surface-level plot of this film is interesting since it's a candid look at some seriously famous people. But also that the plot isn't stellar. The tone of the film is gentle and wistful throughout, like non-stop. If you can picture a seismograph, the needle only ever sways, nothing ever makes it seizure. There's not a heavy sex scene. There's not a dramatic outburst (though some tense scenes with Olivier). There are soft kisses. Flashes of backside nudity. There's the most casual miscarriage I've ever seen in a movie. On top of the tone, the "stakes" are minimal. Colin's "week" with Marilyn has no societal impact. The stakes are personal, not local, national or global. And they're not that high. Colin isn't a shattered man at the end. He's humbled. Confused. But okay. Marilyn rejects him and within days he's at Lucy again. Even though she also rejects him, I think he'll be fine.
What makes the film GREAT isn't the plot. It's the subplot of aging. The characters are embodiments of one another, a single life fractured and the slivers re-embodied. And without you even knowing it, you're watching your own life. We will be or have been Lucy. Colin. Marilyn. Vivien. Olivier. And Sybil. The question becomes, then, how will you choose to deal with it? Will you act like them? Are there better ways? How will you grow? Mature? Will you be bitter? Will you cling? Will you fear?
The saddest part is... We glimpse how unhappy Leigh is. It's evident how frayed Olivier is becoming. Aging hurts. The years add up. And while we're watching each of these characters try to come to terms with what's happening to them, Marilyn can't. Doesn't.
Did I Like It:
Yes. More so after writing this. Before I wrote this, I kept thinking "That was nice and all, but what's any of that matter?" I'm not a Marilyn-ite or anything. Nor an Olivier-ian.
Some reviewers complained that you're too aware you're watching Michelle Williams acting like Monroe. I didn't have that problem.
The movie reminded me of The Last Station. Like...EXACTLY like The Last Station. At first I thought The Last Station was better. Now I'm not so sure. I like the plot of TLS better, I think. There's more rise and fall, high and low, drama. More stakes. But I think this is a more poetic film. And has a thematic depth Station can't do battle with.
I liked the shots. But none made me say "WOW".
Emma Watson is really attractive.
It is yet another movie I would nominate for best picture over Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
What It's Good For:
-A history lesson
-When you need an androgynous movie that doesn't really cater to guys or girls but people
-A solid film experience
-nothing really resembling a climax
-very few scenes of Monroe the Sex Symbol or Charmer
-not a lot of Emma Watson
-some odd close-ups of Branagh made me uncomfortable
% Character / % Actor's personality
Redmayne: 90/10 (have never watched him in anything else)
Cooper: 95/5 (he's good)
-Williams: Brokeback Mountain; Blue Valentine; Shutter Island
-Branagh: Shakespeare stuff
-Ormond: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
-Scott: dude was supposed to be Wolverine but scheduling conflicts meant Hugh Jackman replaced him, sucks (for him).
-Cooper: The History Boys; An Education; The Devil's Double
-Wanamaker: Fable II and III (video games)
-Dench: The Chronicles of Riddick; Casino Royale; J. Edgar
-Marilyn Monroe movies: The Seve-Year Itch; How to Marry a Millionaire; Gentleman Prefer Blondes; Some Like it Hot; The Prince and the Showgirl