Ten, fifteen years ago, Dawson’s Creek was a thing on TV. Its adults-playing-adolescents cast used lots of big, wordy words, and the show captured something important in that inadvertent way teen dramas sometimes do (in their earlier seasons, at least)… but the show was, ultimately, just a teen drama.
My point is: who would ever have predicted that Dawson’s star Michelle Williams, slutty l’il Jen Lindley, she of Grams and death-by-heart-failure in the final episode, would go on to become such a critically acclaimed actress? Weird!
(The only modern-day teen drama starlet who might repeat Williams’ success is Shailene Woodley from I’m a Knocked-Up Teenage Slut, who’s pretty great in The Descendants. Emphasis on “might“, though.)
But god, Williams deserves the acclaim for My Week with Marilyn. She’s terrific. Enchanting. Transformative.
The film is ostensibly about Colin Clark (played by both Eddie Redmayne and Eddie Redmayne’s adorable smile), a chipper English lad who worms his way into Laurence Olivier’s film company in the 1950s. (By the way: this all really happened!) After Colin pretty-much-instantly becomes besties with every major British movie star of the era, he lands a job on “Larry’s” new comedy, which stars American sensation Marilyn Monroe.
Colin, inevitably, falls in love with Marilyn. It doesn’t really matter how this happens. But when it happens, it happens fast. One scene he’s gawping at her in her dressing room; the next he’s dangerously smitten. His colleagues warn him not to get tangled up in Marilyn’s Marilynness, but of course he thinks he’s in love with the true Marilyn, unlike all these other fools who fell for her public persona.
But is he really in love with the true Marilyn? I don’t think so – he’s as seduced by the persona as everyone else is. (“She makes you want to hug her, not have sex with her,” as Roger Ebert puts it.) But then so are we. The real Marilyn, whoever that was, is never fully revealed in this film, though Williams offers glimpses at her as she might have been.
And that’s a terrific achievement; probably Williams’ biggest achievement in this role. I hate to think what a campy mess a lesser performer might’ve made of it. Week‘s script isn’t deep, and on paper its Marilyn doesn’t extend beyond the bleached-blonde white-dress “Happy birthday Mr President” oh-so-vulnerable stereotype. But Williams delivers more than just impersonation. Her Marilyn has something rich and sad and raw swirling behind her “who, me?” innocence and va-va-voom sexuality.
Like its titular (no pun intended – minds out of the gutter, please) heroine, My Week with Marilyn is ethereal and unknowable – it’s light stuff, but it’s beautifully light, all sun-dappled warm tones and wistful soft focus. At times it’s frustrating: Marilyn is a pro at exploiting her strengths, while at the same time unable to appreciate them (which, the film implies, is what led to her – apparent! – death-by-drug-overdose).
The rest of the cast disappears behind Williams, but there are some solid performances: Kenneth Brannagh as Olivier, Dominic Cooper as Marilyn’s film-producing partner, Judi Dench as her co-star. The only disappointment is Emma Watson’s much-hyped role as a wardrobe assistant who catches Colin’s eye. Watson is just beautiful, but she just doesn’t bring anything to the film. When you’re starring alongside Williams, who brings everything she’s got, that’s a problem.
(That said: Watson’s line “Wait a while, crocodile” is my new catchphrase.)