Marilyn starts strong, does not utilize experienced cast

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Review

Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) and Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper) in “My Week With Marilyn.” (Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company)

My Week With Marilyn” more or less hinges on Michelle Williams’ performance as American sex symbol Marilyn Monroe and even builds in a certain amount of awe around the actress by staging the film from the perspective of young show biz hopeful Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne).

Clark, who wrote the memoir that inspired the film, is entranced with Monroe from the first time he sees her onscreen, and Williams gives a dazzling performance. Her portrayal of Monroe displays an understanding of the actress and public figure that goes far deeper than mere imitation, and Williams continues to stand out as one of the boldest, most watchable actresses of her generation.

It’s a shame, then, that the back half of “My Week With Marilyn,” where Williams takes the spotlight, is much spottier than the early sections that are mostly concerned with the making of Sir Laurence Olivier’s “The Prince and the Showgirl.” These earlier scenes make full use of the film’s expansive and entertaining supporting cast, including Judi Dench’s elegant turn as Dame Sybil Thorndike.

Dominic Cooper and Toby Jones also stand out as members of Monroe’s management team, and Kenneth Branagh makes for an outstandingly theatrical Olivier. Meanwhile, Redmayne is almost entirely overshadowed and outmatched by a cast of renowned thespians, many of whom are given the short end of the stick as the film’s focus turns from the movie-within-the-movie to Clark and Monroe’s short-lived attempt at romance.

There’s plenty to like in “My Week With Marilyn,” and Monroe makes for a fairly interesting character when given an ensemble to bounce off of.

Even in the film’s slower moments, Williams is compelling enough to keep one interested. But it’s hard to shake the idea that centering the film around a few flirtatious conversations between Monroe and an assistant director isn’t nearly as interesting as telling the story of a Hollywood starlet going head-to-head with a bonafide thespian, something that “My Week With Marilyn” is far too star-struck to realize. 

Printed on Monday, November 28, 2011: Actress captures essence of American sex symbol