My Week With Marilyn: A Non-Review

I really have no desire to review this film – there’s nothing I could say that hasn’t been said already a thousand times over. I feel the need, instead, to convey my personal experience while watching the movie, and what it meant to me.

My love affair with Marilyn Monroe began years and years ago, when I was in my teens. I’d read an article by an author who’d given a possible take on the star’s final hours from her own point of view, and her story kind of got inside me and never went away. I feel fiercely protective of her and her image to this day, and it is for that reason that I hesitated to even see this film. I love Michelle Williams (I’d even cast her in the film adaptation of my first book, if I could), and I could tell from the trailers that she did a good job being Marilyn – but would she do as well portraying Norma Jeane? I knew the tale was told from yet another man’s perspective on the icon, and I was not at all sure that I wanted to see what he had to say. I wasn’t sure I even cared.

When I found out that the film would soon be released on DVD and Blu-Ray, I decided that it would make the perfect first order through Rogers On Demand for me. I could watch it in the privacy of my own home, and it would be cheaper than seeing it in a theatre, anyway, just in case I wasn’t happy with what I saw. But then I started thinking: Marilyn died a decade before I was born. I’ve only seen a handful of her films, and none of them on the big screen. It occured to me that this might be my first opportunity to sit in a dark theatre and see her larger than life – the way people saw her at the height of her career. Even knowing it wasn’t really her, I was suddenly consumed by the desire to fall in love with Marilyn the way the rest of the world had at the time; the way she’d created herself to be seen – on the silver screen.

So, on easily the nicest day we’ve seen so far this year, I made my way through the sunshine and crowded streets to the small theatre near my apartment that I knew was still screening the film. I settled in with my popcorn and soda in the dark with about 5 other people, and waited for my experience to begin.

I admit to being a bit nervous, but for the most part, I was game to take the ride. The text that introduces the film claims that what we are about to watch is Colin and Marilyn’s true story. “According to HIM,” I thought with some bitterness, which I then swept aside to just watch.

My first impression of Michelle as Marilyn was one of vague acceptance. I could tell she wasn’t Marilyn, but she had the curves and the moves down, and I figured I could live with it. We didn’t see her again for awhile after that first glimpse, as Colin watched her on the big screen. We were instead wrapped up in his story of trying to find his own way in the world, and his desire to work on an actual motion picture set. I enjoyed watching him navigate his way into a world dominated by arrogant men and the women who held them up (I’m looking at you, Sir Lawrence Olivier), and found my excitement also reaching a fever pitch with the other characters as we grew nearer and nearer to the arrival of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller in England to shoot what would become The Prince and The Showgirl.

The moment she appeared in the doorway of the plane – a scarf tied around her platinum blond hair and large dark glasses covering her wide blue eyes, the on-screen press went wild, and my tears welled up. I knew in that moment that I was no longer watching Michelle Williams, nor any other modern day actor portraying characters from the past. I’d been transported back in time, and was being given a rare glimpse into the world of my beloved Marilyn Monroe.

And from that moment on, I was in. I was there – in London, on set, in her dressing room, in her bedroom. I was horrified by how she was treated, I was terrified watching crowds swarm her any time she was out in public. I danced through the leaves barefoot in the sun with her, I teared as we sat in her loneliness, and I felt awkward nervousness almost overwhelm me every time we were on set.

“All anyone ever sees is ‘Marilyn Monroe’…”

I watched as everyone around her continued to talk into her ear, telling her what to do and what to think. And not a one of them was listening to her. They gave her pills to control her every emotion and action – it’s a wonder the woman was able to hold on to any sense of self whatsoever. When she explains to Paula that she doesn’t understand how her character could be so dumb as to not realize that the Prince had only invited her there to sleep with her, she’s simply told that she’s the greatest actress who ever was, and it’s left at that. She’s basically told to use her assets – instead of acting – by the same man who would later quietly admit that she could light up the screen like no other, and her with no training nor education to boot.

“When Marilyn gets it right, you don’t even want to look at anyone else.”

Ain’t that the truth.

There’s a scene in Windsor Castle when Marilyn is looking with child-like glee at an enormous dollhouse, complete with a mini-family inside, which she immediately fantasizes to be Colin and herself. “Look how pretty our daughter is,” she muses wistfully. “A little girl should be told every day that she’s pretty, and always know how much her mother loves her.” She also tells Colin that she grew up mostly in “other people’s homes”. Those brief, quiet moments were some of the saddest I’ve ever seen. I felt them right along with her – my own eyes filling with tears to match hers.

In one of her more chaotic, alcohol and pill-infused times, I was hit with the sudden realization that I was watching a woman drown. She was trying to hold herself together, but it was, perhaps, an impossible task. I’d always thought I could go back in time and listen to her and make her laugh and talk to her – really see her – and that that would somehow be enough to save her. I thought that if someone – anyone – could have made her feel loved, instead of just saying the words to her – that maybe the broken girl would heal and grow into a whole and complete woman, somehow. But maybe Marilyn couldn’t be saved. In a world that would stare at her and not see her, judge her and not listen to her, rule her and not know her – maybe in the world that created her, there was no place for her to actually exist. Maybe no amount of my truth – nor anyone else’s – would have been enough to allow her to find her own. Thank you, Michelle Williams, for finding and letting us see tiny pieces of her truth, at least. It means more to me than I know how to express.

“Should I be her?”

Watching that film, my emotions were all over the place. Some moments, my heart would swell with a thrilling happy pride and I would laugh out loud from the sheer joy of it. Others saw my heart pounding and shattering from the fruitlessness of it all. I know how that story actually ends, you see, and yet I couldn’t help but root for a different outcome. Seeing Marilyn walk onto the set one last time to apologize to the cast and crew, and express a wish for them to remember that she’d tried her best – that one scene alone about destroyed me. The truth is, I just never wanted to say goodbye. Not to her.

As a movie, The Prince and the Showgirl didn’t leave much of an impression on me, but I don’t think I would ever pass up the chance to see Marilyn up on the big screen sometime – the way she was meant to be seen. Viewing Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in a dark theatre would almost be a dream come true, really. It’s my very favourite, after all.

But, as far as My Week With Marilyn goes, I can honestly say this: By the time the final credits started to roll and the lights came up, it was all I could do to walk out of there without sobbing my broken-hearted tears for one of the world’s original Lost Girls.

For that, too, I will always be thankful.

Goodbye Norma Jeane.

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