The biopic is a difficult film to pull off. In almost every case, a movie about a famous person relies chiefly on the notoriety of that person to carry the film. Acting comes first, everything else (story, plot, technique, execution) is secondary. In short, the Hollywood way of thinking is: get a good actor, and you’re gold.
This usually results in two types of films, the most common being the decent film with the terrific performance. The King’s Speech, The Last King of Scotland, Walk the Line, The Queen, all featured great, Oscar-winning performances, but the films themselves were mediocre at best. The flip side is that rare biopic of utter magnificence. Think Milk, La Vie en Rose, Good Night and Good Luck, The Pianist; great films, great performances.
My point is, more often than not, biopics rely too heavily on the lead character to move the film along. And with a film like My Week with Marilyn, this notion of relying on the lead leaves us with an uneven, misguided mess.
My Week with Marilyn tells the true story of a Colin, a young chap from a well to do family, who gets a job as an assistant on Sir Laurence Olivier’s production of The Prince and the Showgirl, starring none other than Ms. Monroe.
Let me get the failures, of which there are many, out of the way first. The film, as mentioned, is far from even. A few scenes soar, others fall dismally flat, plodding along in useless exposition. Whenever the movie calms down (its editing is pointlessly over caffeinated), near greatness is achieved. Unfortunately for us, the movie only hits its stride whenever it is on the set of Olivier’s film, and it is here that I can issue warranted praise.
As Marilyn Monroe, Michelle Williams is, in a word, perfect. The voice, the walk, the mannerisms, she has it all down pat, to an utter science. I have not one negative critique for Williams’ performance, of which I’m sure will result in many award nominations. Likewise Kenneth Branagh, who plays Olivier as a frustrated, well-intentioned genius, sickened by the gregarious demands that come with casting Monroe in your picture. Eddie Redmayne, as the eager Colin, does fine work, but he’s simply no match for these two.
I’m no Monroe expert. I’ve seen a handful of her films (all the most popular ones) and from what I have seen, I can tell you with the upmost confidence that she was not a good actress. At all. I laughed my way through The Seven Year Itch (at, not with); her forced dialogue, clumsy timing, it was all so artificial. I mention this because My Week with Marilyn captures this sentiment perfectly. It shows, with a great deal of gall, the constant battles between Olivier and Monroe. It shows that she needed take after take after take to get the simplest line of dialogue right. It shows, basically, that she was a woman who relied on her looks to advance her career.
Again, it’s unfortunate that the film only really shines when it’s on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl (which isn’t nearly enough). All of the actors involved, including Julia Ormond (fantastic as Vivien Leigh), Dougray Scott (quiet yet commanding as Arthur Miller), Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Dominic Cooper, and Toby Jones, are all great but also greatly underused.
To keep yourself up to speed on this year’s Oscar race, My Week with Marilyn is a must. It features a flawless performance by an actress who is proving with each passing film that she is one of the best around. The movie, however, simply is not. C