What is it about Marilyn Monroe that gives rise to mad obsession? The ungirdled abundance of her body, the sexual availability suggestive of emotional need rather than arousal, her small-voiced helplessness, together speak to a male hunger whose nature is timid — a boy’s appetite, not a man’s. Yet it seems that some women go for Marilyn, too — I find that unfathomable. I’d like to see the Venn diagram showing Marilyn worshipers, JFK-assassination nuts, and individuals who personally have been abducted by a UFO: The overlap must be enormous. Lacking that gene, whatever it might be, l hadn’t been much interested in seeing “My Week With Marilyn,” which tells the truish story of a young man’s chaste romance with the great star, while she was shooting “The Prince and the Showgirl" at Pinewood Studios with Laurence Olivier. If the picture’s box office to date — $13 million — is any indication, my lack of enthusiasm was widely shared.
And yet… Sometimes, men left to their own devices in hotel rooms do unexpected things. I watched “My Week With Marilyn” on pay TV. Glad I did.
Turns out that this movie is yet another entry in the nostalgia sweepstakes, along with "The Artist," "Hugo," and "Midnight in Paris." For movie nuts (I do carry that gene), it’s surprising fun to watch Sir Laurence Olivier, reincarnated with some success as Kenneth Branagh, running a small-scale production with a major star. The big line in the movie suggests that Monroe was a film star who wanted to be a great actor; Olivier was a great actor who wanted to be a film star; and “The Prince and the Showgirl" was not the vehicle to make either dream come true. As I recall, "The Prince and the Showgirl" was a stinker on-screen; evidently it was no fun to make.
Michelle Williams creates a heightened Marilyn Monroe, possibly more intoxicating than the original. At some point, we’re going to have to give this lady an Oscar. I heard Angelina Jolie on “Studio 360” recently, referring to herself as an “artist” — that easy self-aggrandizement, so characteristic of the movie industry, made me wince. But Williams is the real thing, a marvel of disciplined creativity, creating whole universes out of thin air. Branagh, always worth watching, only intermittently succeeds as Sir Larry — but when he nails the impression, it’s aces. Zoë Wanamaker’s Paula Strasberg, Monroe’s acting coach, will scare you more than any toothy vampire. Eddie Redmayne, portraying the lucky boy Colin Clark, is freckled and winsome, oddly credible as a fellow who can skinny-dip with Marilyn Monroe, observe her naked frolics in the bath, lie spooned with to her all night in bed, and yet retain a virginal innocence. You’ve got to see it to believe it.