My Week with Marilyn is by no means a bad movie, per se. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty well-made, well-written, and well-acted. I feel it’s important to mention that up front.
Because the more I think about this movie, the more bile I find myself poised to spew at the Hollywood moviemaking system as a whole.
The bottom line is this: My Week with Marilyn was touted as an account of the life (or at least a brief corridor in the life) of Marilyn Monroe, the likes of which film audiences have never seen. We were told that Michelle Williams’ performance of arguably the most recognizable female face of the 20th century was great, such that it redefines the role for all who came before her and all who will follow.
I’m no stranger to Hollywood hyperbole. Nor am I unacquainted with the practice of out-and-out bullshit when it comes to advertising and marketing in all mediums. False promises and exaggerated claims are part of the game, and I’ve become accustomed to it.
Then what’s my problem with My Week with Marilyn being touted by The Weinstein Company to the critics, the press, and audiences as being a film that breaks the barriers of the biopic genre and redefines the way in which a celebrity’s life is retold?
My problem is that the critics, the press, and audiences alike went for it.
Hook. Line. Sinker.
The film, set in the summer of 1956, follows the exploits of Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne) – a 23-yar-old Oxford graduate desperate to make his name in the movie business. He gets his chance on the set of director/star Sir Laurence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) The Prince and the Showgirl – a film set to star Marilyn Monroe (three-time Academy Award nominee Williams).
Clark’s ability to provide a human context and grounding to the increasingly-hectic life of Monroe does much to ingratiate him to the actress, who comes to look at Clark as her confidant, her friend, and much more.
The premise of the film, based upon two of Clark’s own memoirs detailing his relationship with Monroe, is more than sound. It’s an excellent jumping-point for a biopic about Monroe. The film (and the book that spawned it) can be credited for providing a different look at Monroe.
Most depictions of the prototypical blonde bombshell’s life is wall-to-wall chaos and turmoil. If anything, most attempts to translate her life to celluloid wind up looking more like a chronicle of the life and times of John Belushi.
What My Week with Marilyn offers us is a seldom-seen glimpse at her life; those few and far-between breaths she was able to take in the middle of the firestorm that became her public life.
The performances are pretty good. Branagh shines as he does in everything, and Williams truly is exceptionally good in the title role (I don’t know if she’s Oscar-nominated-good, though; more on that later). The real gold in this picture, performance-wise, comes in the form of Redmayne.
The young Brit does a fantastic job of mixing a variety of emotions, ranging from ambition to overwhelmed enthusiasm, in his portrayal of Clark. His eyes are those through which we experience the story, and Redmayne is more than up to the task.
The direction from Simon Curtis is nothing objectionable, but it’s certainly nothing unprecedented or earth-shattering. Truth be told, the film would look just as good and would be equally well-paced had it been made as a Lifetime movie of the week.
And that, at its heart, is my problem with this movie.
There is, for the most part, nothing exceptional about it. Again, don’t misunderstand me. It’s well-made and well-acted. But there’s nothing special here; Branagh and Williams are both great in the picture, but neither was particularly deserving of their respective Academy Award nominations for the film.
If anything, Redmayne deserved to get the nod over both of his co-stars.
But my gripes with the Academy are really a subject for another sermon (one I intend to start writing as soon as this review is filed).
On the whole, My Week with Marilyn is a decent, if vastly overrated, film. The performances are strong, the writing is decent, and the directing is passable.
It’s an inoffensive, middle-of-the-road effort whose reputation is benefited immensely by the fact that its producers (the Weinstein brothers) are legends in the art of molding perception.
This is by no means a bad film. But do me a favor: Wipe your mind of everything you’ve HEARD about this film before you watch it. Go into it with as clean a slate as humanly possible.
You’ll be amazed at just how ordinary (however watchable and enjoyable) My Week with Marilyn really is.
In spite of more than a few touches of softness, the 1080p AVC-encoded transfer presented with My Week with Marilyn is generally pretty good. The period-specific elements (i.e. wardrobe, locations, etc.) are well-represented here; never once does the transfer reveal that we’re looking at 21st century people playing make-pretend 1950s folk. The colors are well-blended, flesh tones are realistic, and black levels are more than adequate. All-in-all, it’s a decent video presentation.
The audio is equally suitable to the film. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track captures the feel of a 1950s-era film set perfectly, and the related ambient elements make for a more immersive reality. The score (composed by Conrad Pope) is lively and well-mixed, and nary a line of dialogue is obscured in any way.
Beyond the Features
This is where The Weinstein Company and BBC Films have more or less fallen flat when it comes to this movie’s Blu-ray release.
The only bonus features present are the mini-documentary, The Untold Story of an American Icon – a featurette which runs a little over 19 minutes, tells a story that is by no one’s definition untold. In fact, it’s told in the movie; this “featurette” is really little more than the cast and crew providing a rundown of the plot.
The movie also features an audio commentary track with director Simon Curtis, which ranks among the least engaging commentary tracks I’ve heard in a while. The information is good – so long as you can stay awake long enough to absorb it.
At the end of the day, My Week with Marilyn is a movie that accomplishes what it set out to do. It tells a chapter in the life of a film and cultural icon with which we might not be totally familiar.
Unlike the reputation it’s earned in its relatively short life, however, it’s nothing mind-blowing. We’ve seen this kind of thing before.
Again, the best advice for watching this film I can offer is to go in with no expectations. This way, you’re sure to avoid that most fascinating of film going paradoxes; that paradox being disappointment in a good movie.
Shop for My Week With Marilyn on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (March 13, 2012 release date).