There is a song by singer Britney Spears called “Lucky”, and in the song Spears sings about a young woman who has achieved celebrity fame and has everything she could ever want, and yet cries on the inside because she is incredibly lonely. In other words, no one knows the real person behind the celebrity’s image.
This song really should have been included in the soundtrack of My Week With Marilyn, a 2011 film starring Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe and Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark, who was one of the assistants to Marilyn and Laurence Olivier’s film The Prince and the Showgirl in 1956. Even though the shooting of the film lasted only a week, it means a lot for Colin, who falls in love with Marilyn even though the other men at the production company tell him to be careful since she will break his heart and leave him (also, she was newly married to author Arthur Miller, in a quite toxic partnership). Colin starts off watching a lot of films as a kid and so he wants to go into the film industry, but his parents disapprove and tell him he won’t get a job there, but Colin is determined to pursue his dreams, so he goes to a production company and keeps coming back for employment opportunities. Finally, the production head says yes, and Colin ends up being an assistant on the film. When Marilyn first arrives in England, she is constantly pursued by paparazzi and has high hopes for her shooting with Laurence. However, things quickly go sour when Marilyn shows up late for the shoot several times and then forgets her lines in the middle of filming, forcing the directors to start over and over again. In one scene, it becomes so bad that she leaves the room several times, saying that she can’t act and having the people around her, namely her acting coach Paula, persuade her that she is a great actress. Paula, unlike Laurence, is incredibly patient and has a great sensitivity to the art of acting. When Laurence screams at Marilyn, Paula (Professor Hooch in Harry Potter, aka Zoe Wanamaker) and Sybil (played beautifully by Dame Judi Dench) defend Marilyn, arguing that she is in a different part of the world and not used to Laurence’s old-fashioned acting methods. Paula tells him that Marilyn needs time to prepare her role and develop the character she is playing, rather than just simply acting to “be sexy” as Laurence wants her to do.
This film made me think a lot about the film A Star is Born, and how there is so much pressure for female actresses to maintain a certain image for the public eye. In A Star is Born, Ally has to keep up with the image her record label manager imposes on her or else she loses her big opportunity. However, this pressure destroys her and she burns out. This is why Marilyn’s affair with Colin is so important to the film, because Colin doesn’t see her as just as sex symbol like the other men do, and he doesn’t want anything sexual from her. His innocence allows Marilyn to be freer in expressing her sexuality in a way that the public really cannot appreciate. The media capitalized heavily on Marilyn Monroe’s image as this platinum blonde with the hourglass figure and smoky eyes, but this film really delves into the psychological toll that fame had on Monroe. We see alcohol in her room at all times, she takes pills every night before bed. Even with all her fame, Monroe was extremely lonely and miserable because people were always projecting their ideas of how she should be on her, and she wanted someone to just love her for who she is, and Colin and Paula were the only two people in the film who really genuinely cared about her humanity. In one scene, Marilyn is in a library with Colin and is admiring a dollhouse. While peering inside at the house’s girl dolls, she says that all little girls should know how pretty they are. This reminded me yet again of all the pressures that the media places on young women to be a certain size and to look a certain way, and while people are more woke and having campaigns that celebrate curves, thinness, pimples, dimples and other normal facial features that have historically not been celebrated much, there is still this lingering pressure to fit in with Hollywood’s idea of a beautiful woman. Most women still think they are not pretty even though people tell them that, and so Marilyn saying this in that scene was very important. In the #MeToo era, this film is especially important because it shows the impact of sexism on the self-esteem of young women like Marilyn (of course, I am a hypocrite because rapist Harvey Weinstein produced the film).
The film also shows that while training and experience are helpful, acting through pure human instinct is an art in and of itself that is actually quite hard to do for a lot of people. Even though Laurence had a lot of experience and formal training, he didn’t know how to be a good mentor and really didn’t have the level of patience that it took to finish the film shooting. In one scene, he looks in the mirror in his dressing room and tells Colin that he actually does admire Marilyn even though he never really showed it because she had the grit to turn everything Hollywood threw at her into an opportunity to work even harder in her career, and she never gave up. As Marilyn tells Colin in the film, she grew up in several foster homes and had a tough early life, but she pushed through it and eventually became successful. however, the film shows that it’s just as important to have a clear sense of what you’re going to do with fame and success when you finally get it. Marilyn achieved a lot of fame, but she died of a drug overdose and suffered with severe depression for much of her acting career, mainly due to the pressure of always being in the spotlight, always having her image on display for the public. People also overvalued her youth, and this also impacted her self-esteem and older actresses’ self-esteem as well. Vivian Leigh achieved success as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, but as she got older, Laurence started thinking she was too old to play younger women, so he replaced her with Marilyn. Marilyn is smart and understands how messed up this is that this veteran actress isn’t seemingly pretty enough in the eyes of a male director to keep taking on fresh opportunities, and it reminded me so much of a sketch that comedian Amy Schumer did called “Last F*ckable Day”, in which famous actresses Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Patricia Arquette tell Schumer that when female entertainers get older, Hollywood doesn’t think they are sexy anymore, so they stop really giving them more opportunities and often replace them with younger stars, even though these older actresses are incredibly attractive. They have this day to celebrate the “last chance” they get at being attractive to the public eye before they quit their acting careers and fade from the public consciousness (which, in real life, as long as these three gifted ladies are alive and killin’ it in their careers like they always do, is most likely not going to happen) Here’s the hilarious and clever sketch below (warning: contains strong language.)
In one powerful scene of the movie, Marilyn is going shopping with Colin and the rest of the film’s team, when all of a sudden citizens see her walking down the street and race at her, bullying her for autographs. When the film team get Marilyn safely into the car, of the guys jokes that she’s famous and no one can resist her, but we see Marilyn silently sit in the back car seat, trying to recover from this invasion of privacy and wearing a look of pain and misery and exhaustion all rolled into one. This yet again shows the emotional labor associated with being a famous entertainer, this struggle to take off the fake persona we put on for people and just getting real with people about who you are. It really taught me yet again to value the humanity of celebrities, because frankly, even with all their success, stars are human,too, and want to live normal lives and just do their acting, their music, their art, have genuine relationships with people. Hollywood has often churned out a lot of young women and spat them out, portrayed them through the lens of the male gaze, but this film shows just how damaging it can be to limit women in their range as entertainers.
Overall, excellent film and I cannot wait to read Colin’s memoir. In honor of Marilyn, here is a trailer from the actual film The Prince and the Showgirl.
My Week With Marilyn. 2011. Rated R for some language.