Thursday, April 5, 2012

An Ultimately Mediocre Biography, My Week With Marilyn Leaves Me Unimpressed

The Good: Mostly decent acting, Seems to capture reality well
The Bad: Actual footage is distracting, Unlikable characters, Nothing new from the extraordinary actors, Inconsistent protagonist
The Basics: My Week With Marilyn is a biography that would have been utterly forgotten had it not been released during Oscar Pandering Season.

Lately, it seems like I have been watching more biographies than usual. Honestly, I am not sure what drove me to My Week With Marilyn. When Michelle Williams was nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, I was not sold on the film. In fact, Williams did not wow me for her performances in Brokeback Mountain (reviewed here!) or Shutter Island (reviewed here), which were my only experiences with her before My Week With Marilyn. I was not predisposed toward the film or Williams, but when my local library got the movie in, I decided to watch it.

Colin Clark is determined to get into British cinema. After attempting to get into a production, any production, Clark gets his foot in the door by answering phones at one of the production companies. He proves himself by getting a phone number for the executive and when Laurence Olivier begins filming The Sleeping Prince in England, Clark joins the production team as the third assistant director. In his role as Third Assistant Director, Colin Clark is assigned to guard and handhold Marilyn Monroe.

On the set of The Prince And The Showgirl, which the film has been renamed, Clark watches as Marilyn struggles with her lines. As Marilyn is professionally befriended by Dame Sybil, Clark starts a relationship with the costumer, Lucy. But his life becomes more complicated when Marilyn Monroe begins to confide in him and the task of handholding her becomes much more than he ever expected.

My Week With Marilyn is a pretty straightforward biography that illustrates both the process and the personality of Marilyn Monroe. She is presented as a deeply insecure woman whose life is controlled by many other people. The slow-growing relationship between Marilyn and Colin peels back the public persona of Marilyn Monroe to reveal a fragile human who is easily relatable. Still, for as vulnerable and true as Monroe is presented, My Week With Marilyn is bogged down by the perspective, namely Colin.

Colin Clark is a difficult narrator and documentarian to care about. While I might have a predisposition against movies against works that use voiceovers, My Week With Marilyn inconsistently uses them. But the fact that Colin Clark wanders around the greats – Laurence Olivier, Vivian Leigh, Arthur Miller and, of course, Marilyn Monroe – does not suddenly make him an interesting character. Clark is actually difficult to empathize with – especially as he scuds his burgeoning relationship with Lucy for his association with Monroe – and impossible to deny. As the film’s witness, he inserts himself into every situation and scene in a way that forces the viewer to accept him.

The problem with My Week With Marilyn is that none of the characters are vibrant or empathetic enough to make the viewer care. Sure, Marilyn Monroe is vulnerable and human. This is hardly a revelation; of course she was a human being. Seeing it, possibly because I never experienced Marilyn Monroe the icon in context and I have met plenty of celebrities, did not impress me at all. Actors are people. This is nothing new. So, the fact that a common person like Colin Clark shares a week working with Marilyn as her assistant does not wow me. Moreover, Colin emotionally betraying Lucy was both predictable and a disappointing character trait.

As for the acting, My Week With Marilyn is hardly superlative. In fact, had it not been released during Oscar Pandering Season, My Week With Marilyn would probably have been buried by the critics, despite the cast. Most notable in the performances that left me underwhelmed is Emma Watson. As Watson’s Lucy is hurt by Colin, she presents the character in exactly the same way as she played Hermione Granger hurt by Ron Weasley’s obliviousness. I like Watson’s work, but in My Week With Marilyn, she gives the viewer nothing new.

As one who is not a fan of infidelity, it is hard to applaud Michelle Williams’ performance of Marilyn Monroe. Divorced from the actual person, Williams presents the married Marilyn as a flirtatious simpleton. Williams has the whole “simple girl”/”real girl” role down pat and she performs the private Marilyn much like the footage of the real Marilyn Monroe that appears in the film. Williams bites her lower lip and stares vacantly, as needed. She also delivers ironic, intelligent lines with speed and grace that helps to make her seem like more than just any woman. But, again, as a biography, Williams’ commits to recreating another person’s performance and she does that – for both roles of Marilyn Monroe (public and private) – well.

But much of My Week With Marilyn hinges on Eddie Redmayne. Redmayne undermines Colin by presenting him in two very different positions. Colin is initially presented as desperately committed to getting into film production, but Redmayne plays him as a common person. That works fine and Redmayne clearly defines the character in those terms. But when he plays opposite Kenneth Branagh’s Olivier, he suddenly becomes a confident, authoritative individual who has the same level of screen presence. That did not work for me and it weakened his authority as narrator. Not believing Colin Clark to have the same weight and presence as Sir Laurence Olivier forces the viewer to call into question all the rest that is presented in My Week With Marilyn.

The rest of the cast in My Week With Marilyn works well within their expected range. Dame Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Toby Jones and the brief appearance of Derek Jacobi all fall well within what one expects of each of them. My Week With Marilyn, then, is another example of expected greatness as opposed to a surprisingly wonderful film.

Now on DVD, My Week With Marilyn features a featurette wherein the stars and director gush about Marilyn Monroe and the making of the film. There is also a commentary track. My Week With Marilyn might be an adequate biography of one of the superstars of the 20th Century, but as a film, it is hardly engaging, surprising or great. Instead, My Week With Marilyn is an impressive cast showing us what we have already seen from them telling us something we already know.

For other works with Toby Jones, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Hunger Games
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Captain America: The First Avenger
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part II
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
Ever After


Check out how this film stacks up against other movies I have reviewed by visiting my Movie Review Index Page where the films are organized by rating!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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