Monday, December 5, 2011

My Week with Marilyn

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


  1. I really want to see this movie, the trailer looks promising. I have to disagree though about other movies you mentioned - I consider The Queen and King's Speech to be as great as lead performances and La vie en Rose was for me, atrocious and horribly misguided not worthy of having such lovely performance in it.

    Williams is very good actress but I hope she won't win Oscar - actresses usually stop trying after they achieved that and I think she still has a long way to greatness.

  2. La vie en Rose was definitely not as good as the other films I mentioned in that category, and with more thought, I could probably come up with 10 more deserving flicks to put there.

    The King's Speech, to me, was perfectly suitable as an upgraded HBO film, but deserving of Best Pic and Best Director...? I'll never fully understand that one. To be fair, hype played a huge part in ruining the movie for me. I liked it all well and fine when I saw it, but I felt the consequential praise it received was completely baffling. (I'm completely indifferent toward The Queen. Saw it once. Did nothing for me good or bad.)

    Williams won't win the Oscar, too much competition this year, and I do agree (in part) with your notion of actors slowing down after they get that gold. Regardless, I love her work.

    Now... tell me what you liked about Anything Else!? I HATED that movie.

  3. Good call on the king's speech. I liked it when I saw it. Firth was great (deserved his oscar last year though). But, that being said, I didn't understand the Best Pic/Best Director award either. I didn't think Firth was the best last year, but I'm fine with him taking it.
    I haven't watched or had any desire to watch The King's Speech since I'd seen it the first time. No one mentions it, no one talks about it anymore, it really wasn't better than a "yeah it was pretty good."

  4. "actresses usually stop trying after they achieved that and I think she still has a long way to greatness." Wait, what?

  5. @Evan, yeah, I'm not too sure The King's Speech will be discussed 10 years from now. The Social Network however...

    And I think Sati meant that a lot of times, actors kind of "give up" or "slack off" once they win an Oscar. I agree with that, to a point. I don't really agree that Williams has a long way to go until greatness. I think she's pretty damn great right now. But, to each his (or her) own.

  6. I saw it last week, but still haven't managed to write the review- I will try today! I agree on some parts, but for me it was a rather enjoyable movie! MW is amazing, I'll give you that!

  7. When the movie wasn't on set, I was just really bored. My 'C' grade, to be honest, is me taking it pretty easy on the film. But, yes, MW is incredible.

  8. Anything Else? Oh I loved it. It's like Annie Hall brougt to modern times with Allen bringing in one of his most hilarious character. AE just combines everything I love aobut his movies, that's why I love it the most.

    @Evan what is troubling you? What exactly have Witherspoon, Jolie, Berry, Cruz, Roberts and others did lately to even achieve the nomination?

    And Williams was only outstanding in Blue Valentine, I think she is average way too many times, like in Synecdoche NY, where she just is and that's it.

  9. I've not seen the film yet, but I love your writing here Alex. It's got a great flow to it.
    As for MM, you're not wrong. Although in her early days she was bearable (very good, in fact, in The Asphalt Jungle) she was no actress. She's hardly alone in that, of course.
    (I also agree with you re: The king's Speech, but then I've said that right from the very beginning).

  10. @Sati, damn, maybe I need to give AE another go.

    I think Evan was more troubled by your notion that Williams "had a long way to greatness," but I don't want to speak for him. You are absolutely right about all the actresses you mentioned. Also... Bullock. barf.

    @Colin, thanks Colin, that's really kind of you to say. Haven't seen The Asphalt Jungle, it's been sitting idly in my Netflix queue for months, need to jump on it. And don't get me wrong, The King's Speech is not a BAD movie, it's just not very good either

  11. @Evan what is troubling you? What exactly have Witherspoon, Jolie, Berry, Cruz, Roberts and others did lately to even achieve the nomination?

    I think it was just more of a lucky role where everything just worked for them. I've never really considered any of these actresses 'outstanding' but they're good, without a doubt.

    Meanwhile I think the truly great actresses will keep producing great performances. IE: Streep, Portman, Winslet, Benning, Swank, etc.

  12. Yeah, I agree with your dislike of the film, though I might hate it even more than you. It really is a colossal waste of time and energy that's trying to create a passionate romance between a complete twit and a tragic figure, when it barely cares about the former and treats the latter with kids gloves. It's really a shame.

  13. Boom. My sentiments exactly. Well said.

  14. I just added this feed to my bookmarks. I have to say, I very much enjoy reading your blogs. Thanks!

  15. Che, Chopper, Capote, Foxcatcher, The Social Network, American Sniper, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, American Gangster, tAoJJbtCRF, The Informant!, Public Enemies, 127 Hours, Argo, The Conjuring, Rush, Ali, Antwone Fisher, Catch Me If You Can, Monster, Ray, Jarhead, Before Night Falls, Erin Brockovich, Pollock, United 93. Sorry to say but the 21st century biopics are pretty fantastic.
    You can list your favorite biopics from 2010 till now?

    1. Hmm, that's an interesting idea, I'd have to think about that one for a bit.