Michelle Williams Brings a Sense of Ordinary to Screen Icon, Marilyn Monroe

by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
Monroe in Scene from "Princess and Showgirl" about Which "My Life with Marilyn" centers
Monroe in Scene from "Princess and Showgirl" about Which "My Life with Marilyn" centers

The life of legendary screen sex siren Marilyn Monroe has been portrayed numerous times; however, "My Week with Marilyn" imparts a soul and heart into the actress. Set during a period of filming a comedy in England (“Prince and the Showgirl”) , Michelle Williams portrays her as a fragile, vulnerable, insecure woman jetted into the Hollywood culture which both makes her an attention getting star but adds responsibilities of which she has not the capability of assuming.

This film scratches the surface on her sex goddess screen image  suggesting that a portion comes from enthusiastic fans and a portion from her natural instincts. Williams concentrates on her need for emotional support and encouragement. which does not flow from show business professionals who see her as a wind up doll that should 'act' on cue. They neglect that Ms. Monroe was "discovered" and does not have the benefit of an acting resume. Her entrance into acting school came after she had been typecast as a “dumb blonde.” Having been raised in an orphanage and foster homes, she had neither the  hard skin that many successful celebrities develop from rejections along their journey nor the self-confidence which drained rapidly when working with award caliber peers,

Monroe’s biography indicates a fear of performing in front of live audiences, an ironic stage fright for a top billed actress. “My Life” does have the misfortune of not allowing the audience to learn that the lady of glamour possessed these inadequacies , likely from her dysfunctional childhood. However, the production does concentrate on developing her inner fears during the conflict over her infamous misbehaviors on and off the set.

“My Life” originated from the memoirs of third assistant director Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the so-called ‘go for’ plunges into a revered and despised promotion --- the ability to relate to the troublesome superstar. By befriending Marilyn, Colin resists sexual scenario temptations and wins her admiration and trust by listening to her overwhelming lack of confidence woes  and treating her as an ordinary person.


Praised for its accuracy in depicting the star, this insider’s glimpse unveils more than typical on set and roll camera difficulties. Leading man /director of the film within a film Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) constantly berates his co-star and complains how delays cost money. He’s unmoved that her co-dependency on an acting coach offsets the loud criticisms often go with the film-making process. Branagh stays clueless unable and unwilling to adapt his directing style to one that would coach a winning performance of his 30 year old star with the emotional age of a teen in puberty.

Williams opens a sympathy stream early through wide eyed, fearful, anxiety prone scenes that punctuate how the new found female star has many "friends" on the payroll but few that stand true to her. Think of the more recent press generated when Paris Hilton held a contest for a ‘best friend.’

Treating Marilyn stereotypes (breathy voice, sexual escapades, exhibitionist) in a moderately downplayed manner, Williams (“Shutter Island,” “Brokeback Mountain”) steadfastly utilizes cliché mannerisms to reinforce the character’s need for nurture and normalcy. When inner demons overwhelm, the steadfast 23-year-old  production assistant wins  respect by “staying on her side.” By having limited sexiness to kisses and flirtations  in favor of other aspects of Marilyn’s persona, Williams sheds a captivating veil on the opposite sex friendship and repeatedly injects an empathy for the woman. Scenes of pill taking and excessive drinking are minimized, but these sequences quickly recall the turmoil of “the King of Pop,” who had experienced difficulty adjusting to super-fame.

Thus, we see a film making neophyte thrust into a star’s inner protective circle nearly all of whom treat her as a payday robot, not an unstable individual  temporarily endeared from treating her as a person, which allows him into the inner circle which treats her as a 'robot,' rather than an individual slipping deeper  into chemical vices and professional sins (late on the set) that stem not from  overt haughtiness but from periods of ‘I can't do this’  due to the fear of shattering her wobbly   sense of self.

Williams  scenes with Colin (Redmayne ) become  "me time" and "friend time" cementing the friendship through sincere hugs reinforcing   genuine heart felt concerns for a woman too quickly labeled ‘difficult’ after being sucked into the moneymaking star machine factory that represents Hollywood.

Seemingly a certain Academy Award nominee for Best Actress, Michelle Williams strength rests on depicting the acting icon always in a natural manner always cultivating the “Norma Jean” portion of Monroe’s complex persona.

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