The Problem With My Week With Marilyn

Illustration for article titled The Problem With My Week With Marilyn

I went to a screening of My Week With Marilyn last night. It seems the studio is trying to generate more interest, since they had something special set up, even though the film has already been playing in New York theaters for a week or so. Michelle Williams — who, as one person in the theater mentioned, is "great at playing sad people" — has been getting rave reviews about her performance, but I can't say that I was really that interested in seeing the movie. And none of my friends or colleagues seem enthused about it either. That's the first problem: Who cares? She's an icon, sure, but she just might be one of the most over-exposed actresses, ever. She's been dead for forty-nine years, but her image — the hair, the whispery voice, the white dress — live on. It seems like every year, there are new "lost" pictures, new auctions of her tiny-waisted dresses. She's on postcards and in commercials. You don't get the sense that people are clamoring for more. And yet! It keeps on coming.


Here's the other problem: The film is not an in-depth biopic about her life. It's right there in the title: A week. That's Vanity Fair article, not a movie.

But the biggest problem with My Week With Marilyn is that the film treats the woman who loathed being a sex object as a sex object. The story is told by a man who looked at her as a mesmerizing other-worldly creature. Though he did have some intimate moments with her, a lot of the film involves Marilyn being gawked at by this slack-jawed fan-turned-friend who calls her a goddess. As a character, she is frustrated because she wishes people would see her as a human being, but she's shot in the softest, most radiant light, frolicking through the English countryside and ever so gently batting her lashes: Male gaze ad nauseam. There is no manic pixie dream girl more manic, more pixie-like, more dreamy.

When it comes right down it it, there are not a lot of personality-revealing moments. Michelle Williams is luminous, and does well with what little she's been given, in terms of a script. But the audience sees this man spend a week (actually, more like a month, but whatever) with the icon and neither he nor we learn very much about her, beyond what we already knew: She was lonely and troubled and not an object but a woman. A story told with a healthy dose of objectification. Marilyn Monroe is interesting; she grew up in foster care, was married to Arthur Miller at the height of his communist blacklist kerfluffle and probably slept with JFK. There could be a way to tell a gripping story about this iconic woman, who seemed to use and get used by men. It seems like most of her life was an act: She changed her name, her hair color, made a living out of playing pretend. But a memoir from the point of view of a man, who was also a fan, and also in love with her, i.e., buying that act, doesn't really offer much more insight — when it comes to her thoughts and feelings — than the pouty postcards you've already seen.



I wasn't a huge fan of this film either. But I'd not write off Monroe as just a pouty smokescreen. Not many people in the film industry are what they seem; even when they are down to earth and without pretense, sometimes that's an act too.

I think she really did live in a much different time and world that most of us younger folks can imagine or relate to. I also think of her life as being a precautionary tale about what you wish and dream for as a child and where you end up as a woman if that kind of dream is wildly fulfilled, but completely unchecked.

Some of what she said and wrote in her last years really is reflective of someone who wasn't too thrilled with where her image and her dreams intersected and though it's often cheesily romanticized in movies and books about her, I don't think it's far off to say she was quite savvy and well aware of how people saw her, but was likely vastly more dimensional than her image. And THAT is part of why I think she's an icon, even if it's on a subconscious level.