Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Release Review: My Week With Marilyn (Simon Curtis, 2011)

My Week With Marilyn is directed by Simon Curtis and adapted from two memoirs (The Prince, the Showgirl and Me, and My Week With Marilyn) by Colin Clark (portrayed at age 23 by Eddie Redmayne) by Adrian Hodges. The majority of the film depicts the making of the 1957 film, The Prince and the Showgirl, and Clark's experience on the set with director and star Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), after winning a role as his third assistant director, and the most famous female movie star in the world at the time, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). Monroe has recently married Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) and in addition to moving to England to shoot the film, is on her honeymoon.


Clark's experiences would be the dream of any 23-year-old with a love for the movies, but Hodges and Curtis manage to reveal Marilyn at her most voluptuous and sexy, and her most sad and troubled, while ensuring the film is playful and amusing, and the hyperactive energy of the camera, editing and score aid the tone. When Miller returns to New York, Monroe, who struggles to remember her lines and wastes take after take, much to the frustration of Olivier, becomes a worry. She finds solace in Colin, who is assigned to keep an eye on her. Colin is naïve and innocent and can’t help but fall in love with the lovely Ms. Monroe. As a result of Olivier’s bullying (justified, considering how unreliable Marilyn was), he treats her with sympathy and believes he understands who she really is. Marilyn takes a liking to the youngster, who always seems to be there when she needs him – and for the briefest time, becomes the centre of his world.

The second half, where the film becomes much more serious and chronicles the blossoming friendship/affair between Marilyn and Colin, and Marilyn’s more severe depression, is much less interesting than the playful tone of the first half. Colin’s relationship with Lucy (Emma Watson), a wardrobe girl, was also flimsy and seemed to be there just to cause some level of confliction in Colin’s character. Also, Marilyn’s marriage to Miller was portrayed very minimally. All we really know is that it doesn’t work out. Matilyn is a handful and Miller, a renowned playwright, cannot work in her company. Scott has only has a couple of lines in the whole film.

The first half is more centred on Olivier and Colin, while the second half belongs to Marilyn and Colin, and I thought the balance was handled pretty well. The Prince and the Showgirl was a key chapter in the careers of both Monroe and Olivier. Monroe would next star in Some Like it Hot, while Olivier would return to his previous stage success. I think the film also provides thought-provoking insight into who they actually were as individuals, while acting as an entertaining biopic but thankfully not adhering to the staple form and trying to squeeze the entire life of the figure into the space of a film.



For Williams, it is an astonishing transformation, and though I haven’t seen too many of Marilyn’s films (Some Like It Hot of course), I felt like it was a convincing impression. Seemingly always child-like, wide-eyed and aloof, Marilyn constantly required company (her agent and acting coach were always close at hand), supervision (she was a suicide threat), and continued reassurance about her star quality and acting abilities.

She seemed to have no belief in herself – and the only reason she made it out of bed and into the studio (often hours late) was through an assortment of prescription drugs. She seems to float through her work, often becoming extremely emotional. She was evidently a very troubled young woman and miserable behind her much-beloved public persona. One one occasion, after running carefree through the grass with Colin (Marilyn at her purest and free from judgement) she runs into some fans, prompting her to pose for them. “Should I be her?” she innocently asks Colin with a wink.

Michelle Williams, to look the part (Marilyn was busty and curvy), would have had to put on a bit of weight, and her third Academy Award nomination (though she is unlikely to win here) is certainly justified. Branagh's nomination is very deserved, perfect in recapturing all of Olivier's pompousness. He is perhaps even the film’s highlight. He has a lot of the best lines, and certainly draws plenty of laughs through his aggravation at Marilyn’s unreliability, and acting error. Redmayne was well cast, and seems to be a promising talent, while Judi Dench (as always) and Dominic Cooper were strong.



Marilyn is not a long film, but it did start to drag in the final third. It seems obvious why Colin is infatuated with the starlet, but it is never really explained why Marilyn is so messed up, or offers any insight into her earlier career. This is with the exception of the film’s opening sequence, which captures Colin at a cinema watching with wide-eyed infatuation one of Marilyn’s earlier films.

Supposedly, Marilyn is based on 'true events' though I believe the news of their affair wasn't initially unveiled in Clark's memoirs, but actually recounted in a different document later. I got the sense that their solo escapades may have been somewhat glorified, but really, how would one know? Nevertheless, the playful tone, sharp sense of humour, use of the stunning English countryside, Williams' sympathetic portrayal of the cultural icon, and Branagh's sensational work, result in this being a genuinely entertaining experience.


My Rating: ★★★1/2 (B-)

18 comments:

  1. Agree with pretty much everything you said but I don't feel she brought the sexiness. She didn't 'pow' the same way Marilyn did. Otherwise she nailed it.

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    1. Maybe I just find Michelle Williams sexy, but I see what you mean.

      She looked a bit puffy at times though. She def. put on weight for the role. Branagh was so good. I might even prefer him to Christopher Plummer. I enjoyed it - had a few laughs, and really felt for Colin (I am exactly the same age haha)

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    2. Personally I would say no one will ever be able to 'pow' like Marilyn did, which would seem to make it an almost impossible part to play. But, as you both note, and I agree, she still nails it. She really captured how much of an unknowable enigma Marilyn was and which I thought was the film's ultimate theme (kind of underscored by the fact, as you mention, Andy, how a lot of this may have been glorified).

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    3. Yeah, because she died so prematurely, a lot of her life was left to speculation I guess. This is the first biopic about her life (I think) and I thought the Michelle Williams relayed just how fragile she was behind her public persona. The film is also light and funny - and not as dry and serious as biopics usually are.

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  2. It's an imperfect film but I liked it. Particularly the performances of Williams and Branagh. I wished it had more Judi Dench who was just a joy to watch.

    It's gotten me interested in seeing The Prince & the Showgirl as I DVR'd the film last month.

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    1. Yeah, I feel like I want to see the film now to compare how it was portrayed in this. I liked the performances a lot, including Dench (who just seems to suit every role) and the actress who played Vivien Leigh.

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  3. Great review Andy.

    I really enjoyed 'My Week with Marilyn' and thought it was solid 'light' entertainment.

    I agree that Branagh had some of the best lines, and to me, was the stand out performance.

    Michelle Williams was great as Marilyn but I felt that she kind of disappeared when sharing the screen with Branagh and Dench.

    One of the best things about it was the perspective. I liked that Colin was always on screen and that everything was told from what he witness. When Marilyn and Arthur were fighting, the audience came into it halfway through it because that's when Colin appeared.

    It was fun and interesting but by no means special.

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    1. The perspective is a feature I liked too. I am glad you brought that up - and I liked that the first half was more centred on Olivier. By setting up Colin as the narrator it establishes that events are told from his perspective, which I guess explains why Miller has little to do. They rarely interacted. Thanks for the comment Russell.

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  4. I agree, as I often do, with your review Andy. I scored it lower, of course, but that's standard procedure too...
    Dench, for me, was the film's greatest asset. A bit like Shakespeare in Love, she's not in it much but when she is she makes a great difference. I'm afraid Redmayne's a taste I've yet to acquire, and although I adore and admire Williams, my reticence to praise an actor impersonating still stands - as it does with Branagh, whose prosthetics hardly helped.

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    1. I really did like Dench, but from my experience with Monroe and Olivier, I thought the other two pulled off pretty good impersonations - and taking into account that the film, overall, is better made and more entertaining than The Iron Lady and Albert Nobbs, I rank Williams above Streep and Close. Still, I don't think she deserves an Oscar for this. Branagh, in a weak field, could win though, He was the standout for me. I am usually a little generous, so if I give out a 1/2 - you know I really didn't like it.

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  5. I really liked this one, and I agree that it doesn't delve too much into why she is messed up. But I actually found that believable, since I'm not sure that a 23-year old who knew her for one week would be able to figure it all out either. TO me, the story did a great job of placing us into Colin's point of view, and Williams makes it so easy to see why people fell in love with her.

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    1. Totally. That is a great point. I thought it was amazing how effortlessly she made people fall in love with her. Even Olivier, in the end, was praising her talents (though from what I have seen of her, I don't think she was a great actress at all). A movie star, oh yes. Dench's character was in awe of her, and of course, image your 23-year-old self (and I don't know if you're older or younger) spending time with a woman like that. I am the exact same age, so it was really inspiring to see him work on such a set, and be privileged to have met such infamous people.

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  6. I think aside from (some) of the performances, this movie was a total wash. I was bored throughout, but Williams and Branagh were enough to carry it. Not awful, not great. At any rate, great review, per usual.

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    1. Yeah, I checked out your review. I don't think I was ever bored. At least not in the first half (which was predominantly the set of The Prince and the Showgirl as you say). It is no masterpiece, but I think it is recommendable enough. Cheers dude.

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