Ever since her first brush with Hollywood accolades in Brokeback Mountain, it seems like Michelle Williams has only agreed to make prestige pictures that have some chance at wooing Academy voters. She's even been nominated a few times, and rightly so. Williams has long since proven to be an amazing actress, quite possibly the best to ever come out of "Dawson's Creek" (seriously, look it up). I don't begrudge the lovely Ms. Williams for spending so many years digging for Oscar gold. She certainly deserves recognition for her amazing work, and God knows she isn't the only actor to build a huge chunk of her career around chasing awards. Having said that, I can't help but pity anyone who would pin her awards chances on Meek's Cutoff. And when a young actress allies with the friggin' Weinstein Brothers to make a film like My Week with Marilyn... well, that just seems like a whole 'nother kind of desperate.
The film opens with a musical number, in which Williams sings and dances in the character of Norma Jean Mortenson, aka Marilyn Monroe. The whole time, she may as well have been singing "Look at me! Look at me!" The presentation was suitably flashy and it revolved entirely around the star actress, which was enough to show that this movie had absolutely no ambition to be anything other than an Oscar vehicle.
Now, I was willing to let this slide, since this was pretty much what I came to see. But then we meet our protagonist, Colin Clark. We meet his parents, both of whom are quickly established to be disapproving parents as stock and two-dimensional as any I've ever seen. And while that's going on, Colin is introducing himself through voice-over, expositing things that any screenwriter with a brain cell should have been able to convey without. Five minutes in, and I had already given up on the film, since the storytelling was inexcusably lazy and I knew it wasn't going to get any better.
Sure enough, this film established itself thoroughly as standard Oscar-bait. By that, I mean that it's technically passable and filled with everything that Academy voters are known to fall for, but nothing else. Yes, there are a few glimpses of such issues as the nature of what it means to be a celebrity and the cut-throat business of Hollywood, but these themes are terribly underdone and they don't go anywhere new.
Then again, no one asks for innovative camera work, clever editing, or creative screenwriting in period Oscar dramas. It's all about the actors, and I'm sorry to say that they're all undone by unforgivably shallow characterizations. These characters are so terribly developed and the film's conflict is so paper-thin that these brilliant actors are given nothing to do. Toby Jones is wasted. Dominic Cooper is wasted. Derek Jacobi is wasted. Emma Watson is gorgeous, but otherwise entirely wasted.
And Eddie Redmayne... whoa, boy.
There's a very thin line between being an everyman and being a nonentity, but Redmayne's character is nowhere near it. From start to finish, Colin is totally boring and unremarkable. He has no personality, and his chemistry with Marilyn is so non-existent that it renders the central romance completely null. He does show some determination to find work early on, but all of his actions after that point in the first act are determined for him by the other characters.
Worst of all, Colin's character arc consists pretty much entirely of him falling in love with Marilyn in spite of everyone else telling him not to. It's repetitive, it doesn't build to anything interesting, and it fails to develop the persona that Colin doesn't have. The main character in this film starts as a nobody and he ends it as a nobody, which irreparably harms the 100% of the film that he's in.
Now, to be fair, there are a few good performances to be found here. Judi Dench is grossly underutilized, but she appears delightfully warm and matronly in what little screentime she has. Kenneth Branagh gets significantly more screentime, playing fellow Shakespearean actor/director Laurence Olivier. This role is firmly in Branagh's wheelhouse, and he has a great time with it.
But what of Michelle Williams? Well, she does bring a ton of vulnerability to the role, and there's no denying that she absolutely lights up the screen. Williams is clearly bringing her A-game to this role, but there's still a huge problem with her performance here. I know it's something that couldn't be helped, but it has to be said.
She's not Marilyn Monroe. She's never going to be Marilyn Monroe. No one is, no one else ever was, and no one will ever be. There's absolutely no way to replicate the screen presence she had, and Williams doesn't come close. The best she can deliver is a pale imitation, and for better or worse, that's what we get.
Much like its depiction of the title character, My Week with Marilyn is pretty to look at, but doesn't have anything new, interesting, or intelligent to say. The film is oppresively safe, steadfastly refusing to push any envelopes or take any risks. This proves especially harmful in the case of our main character, who was designed so specifically to appeal to everyone that he ends up relateable to no one.
It's probably worth a look for anyone who wants to stay in the loop for awards season. No one else should bother.