Review: MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (AFI Film Fest 2011)


My Week With Marilyn is an all-out prestige picture if there ever was one. Based on the memoir of a young man who fell in love with Marilyn Monroe during his first film job, it's a real life story that practically has "Oscar" etched across every frame. It's a movie about making movies, and features larger-than-life performances of real Hollywood stars by real Hollywood stars. But putting all of that aside, the film itself is pretty damn good.

23-year-old Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) wants to get into film production. Thanks to the connections of his wealthy parents, he joins Laurence Olivier's (Kenneth Branagh) production company as Olivier's personal assistant and 3rd AD on a new film, The Prince and the Showgirl. The film is set to star Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), and the media frenzy builds as Marilyn comes to England for the first time. She's not only there for the film, though: she's celebrating her honeymoon with playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). But when Miller heads back to the States, Marilyn and Colin develop a relationship that changes Colin's life forever.

Last year, I was privileged enough to see the world premiere of David O. Russell's The Fighter. I knew I was seeing something special when Christian Bale came on screen, and everyone knew he gave an award-winning performance. I felt similarly about watching Michelle Williams here. It helps that she has the stunning physical similarity to Monroe, but the actress also has an undefinable magnetism that is absolutely mesmerizing. Behind the vibrant eyes of "the most famous woman in the world" is the broken soul of a little girl who doesn't want to be abandoned.

My Week With Marilyn is more about the nature of celebrity than the creation of art. Most of the problems I had with it involve the messages and themes being presented a bit too obviously, which make similar films that tackle the same concepts with subtlety even more impressive (see: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). Once, during one of many of Marilyn and Colin's dalliances, a crowd of people forms when they realize Marilyn is among them. She turns to Colin and asks, "Shall I be her?" It's a tiny line, but it reveals a great deal about her mental state: she has created a public persona, and though she occasionally feels trapped by the responsibility that comes along with that, she also (like any true star) relishes the limelight and can't contemplate giving it all up.

While the movie is primarily a drama, there are also some nicely drawn comedic moments. The conflicts between Olivier and Monroe's acting styles provide some good laughs, and Branagh's exasperated bewilderment is one of the joys of the film. Judi Dench's performance is a highlight - she plays a selfless actress who sees the potential in Monroe and helps her out when Olivier's patience runs thin on set. But it's not all fun and games: this movie has some major flaws. A pointless narration bookends the film with unnecessary explanations of the lead character's thoughts. A subplot involving a relationship between Colin and Lucy (Emma Roberts), a cute stagehand working at the film studio, goes nowhere and is later brought back as if it means something important. The script has really interesting ideas in it, but seems hampered by its by-the-numbers telling of the story.

A week with Marilyn may have changed Colin's life, but I'm not so sure it'll change ours. The cast is outstanding, Simon Curtis' direction is strong, and the score (by Conrad Pope and Alexandre Desplat) fits the mood perfectly, but the film's lack of subtlety hurts it in the end. Still, it's a really solid film that comes together quite well, and Michelle Williams does some of the best work of anyone I've seen this year on film. Until next time...

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