We, as a society, are obsessed with celebrity. It’s a systemic problem that is rooted in our belief that in America, anyone could be rich and famous, with hoards of people falling at your feet and succumbing to your every whim. For most people it’s seen as the easiest and most desirable route to the American Dream, one which takes the least amount of work and provides the most benefit. And while we all at one time have taken a shot at achieving that level of success, we are also obsessed with seeing those who have become rich and famous fail. We live in a 24 news cycle in which we populate countless websites and read hundreds of magazines looking for the latest gossip. These outlets report everything, free of remorse and regardless of how trivial it may be because they know the hunger for information is insatiable.
This is not a new development. For decades, hell, even longer than that, our desire to be close to the famous, to live vicariously through them has always been of interest. Never more clearly crystalized is our obsession with celebrity culture than in the case of Marilyn Monroe. There have been countless books, movies, Television specials, recounting the life, death and legacy of the late entertainer. There has never been a person more scrutinized, both in life and in death than Ms. Monroe. The film My Week with Marilyn attempts with great success to show the audience the effects of such scrutiny.
My Week with Marilyn is but a brief glimpse into the life of Monroe. It’s 1956 and she is already the most famous person in the world. Monroe, as portrayed by Michelle Williams, is a walking contradiction. She is all at once a confident sex symbol and shy, bewildered actress. She is both a steely tactician aware of her enormous power and and a walking open wound who just wants to love someone and be loved in return. The motives of the people she relies on the most are questionable at best and they seem comfortable to keep her guarded, propped up by lies and pills.
The story is told from the perspective of Colin Clark, a young man from an upper class family, who desperately wants to work on the pictures. Through sheer persistence, he gets a job as a third assistant director for Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Brannagh) for the film that would eventually become The Prince and the Showgirl. Olivier is a great actor and wants to be a movie star, Monroe is a great movie star that longs, perhaps more than anything else to be a great actress. The dynamic between Olivier and Monroe is cause for a belabored shoot and a tense war of egos.
If her brilliant performance in last year’s Blue Valentine didn’t completely take Michelle William’s out of the shadow of Dawson’s Creek, then this movie most definitely will. This movie asks her to play Monroe as we’ve never seen before. She plays Monroe as woman teetering on the edge of a million emotions, hanging onto her sanity by mere thread. In the movie we fully grasp what it is like to not have any control on your life, to be at the mercy of an unstoppable machine. Furthermore, we come to understand why Ms. Monroe was so popular. Through the prism of today’s society, where people are famous for simply being famous, we come to understand what a star truly is: A representation, no matter how truthful he or she may be, of our best self. And most importantly, as entertainment.