Once in a generation, there comes an actor who redefines what it means to be famous — a celebrity whose name is synonymous with show business, whose face graces the walls of every household and whose erratic, enchanting nature instantly makes him or her a muse and an inspiration. Marilyn Monroe, without a doubt, was one such actor.

My Week with Marilyn

At the Michigan
The Weinstein Company

Whimsical, flirtatious and elusive, Monroe was the dream of men and the envy of their wives. But that’s not what “My Week with Marilyn” is about. Yes, it tells the story of a young man named Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne, “The Other Boleyn Girl”) who is besotted with Monroe’s (Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine”) effortless charm. But more importantly, the film reveals the flawed human behind a name not often associated with flaws — a girl with a troubled childhood who just wants to walk in the park like a normal person.

That girl is not what Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh, “Blue Valentine”) expects when he decides to hire Monroe for his upcoming film. Having replaced his wife Vivian Leigh (Julia Ormond, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) with the younger, more vivacious Monroe, Olivier wants his light comedy to catapult him into superstardom. He wants Monroe to do what she always does — be sexy. Monroe, on the contrary, is a superstar who wants to be known as an actress. She wants this film to be more than a superficial comedy, and this difference in opinion yields numerous uneasy days on set that make Monroe ever more fragile.

The only person whose company she finds comforting is the enthusiastic Clark — a third assistant director who is already enchanted and infatuated by her presence. It’s clear from the beginning that their relationship doesn’t have a happy ending, but the times they spend together peel away layer after layer of Monroe’s unyielding exterior and give us a glimpse into the perils of being famous.

When they’re together in her bedroom one night, she comments on how lucky Clark is to have a family that loves him. For the first time, we’re made to grasp the unsettling nature of her childhood and subsequently her constant yearning to be loved and cared for. The more time they spend together, the more we realize how tiring it must have been for Marilyn Monroe to perpetually be expected to be a glamorous movie star, when she really just wanted to be normal.

Williams plays Monroe — externally formidable yet internally vulnerable — with riveting ease. When she sings and dances, one is reminded why Monroe was so bewitching. When she breaks, we’re reminded of Monroe’s battle with fame and her desire to be understood. It’s too soon to say, but she might just walk away with an Academy Award.

The more unexpected yet pleasantly surprising performance, however, comes from Redmayne. His internal conflict about being with a married woman and youthful disregard for conventions are unnerving. It’s unfortunate that the film didn’t explore his character as thoroughly as Monroe. Then again, none of the other characters were touched upon with as much devotion and affection. It goes to show that Monroe demands as much admiration today as she did 50 years ago.

Despite these minor flaws, it’s hard to believe that this is director Simon Curtis’s (TV’s “Cranford”) first feature. It’s not easy to make the most famous face in the world so human, and Curtis’s Monroe is fascinating and fragile.

“My Week with Marilyn” is a humorous, graceful depiction of how fame and glamor blind us so thoroughly that we rarely try to look past the celebrity and comprehend the person beneath.

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