Anchor Bay // 2011 // 99 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // March 7th, 2012
He's a great actor who wants to be a film star. She's a film star who wants to be a great actress.
And this film won't help either of them.
In 1956, 23-year-old Colin Clark worked as a third assistant director -- ultimately, a minor production assistant -- on the Laurence Olivier/Marilyn Monroe film The Prince and the Showgirl. He kept a diary, which forty years later, he published under the title The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me; the success of that book led Clark to write a more detailed account, My Week with Marilyn.
While the veracity of the books is questionable, they offer yet another fascinating anecdote about one of the screen's most iconic figures. Fifty years after her death, the public still clamors for Marilyn, with the apparently annual unearthing of "never-before-seen-photos" reliably stoking headlines.
In 2011, Clark's story was turned in a film. My Week with Marilyn received generally favorable reviews and flat out raves for its star, Michelle Williams, who nabbed an Oscar nomination and a number of critics' awards for her work.
Now, Anchor Bay releases My Week with Marilyn on Blu-ray. Is this a disc that wants to be loved by you, or did that old black magic fail this one?
More than anything, young Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne, Savage Grace) wants to work in movies. He gets the chance when family friend Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh, Celebrity) begins work on The Prince and the Showgirl, a film he will both act in and direct -- and which will feature American movie star Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine).
As Third Assistant Director (really, a well-titled gofer), Colin has a front-row seat to what should be the historic pairing of a true prince of acting and the sexiest and most famous "showgirl" of her time.
Only instead of movie magic, Colin witnesses a battle of epic proportions, complete with clashing egos and creative differences. At the center is Monroe, whose devotion to method acting and disregard for the shooting schedule are driving Olivier to distraction.
Of course, driving men to distraction -- intentionally or otherwise -- is Monroe's stock-in-trade, and young Colin soon finds that he is not immune to her considerable charms.
My Week with Marilyn is a smart, funny movie with a special appeal to movie lovers. The behind-the-scenes high jinks surrounding a film that's a classic without being especially good play out like the cinematic equivalent of a beach read: witty and a tad ironic, with just enough emotional heft to make it approximate art.
The week in question is the period when Monroe's new husband, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott, To Kill a King), driven to distraction by his bride's neediness, heads back to New York. Marilyn, feeling abandoned and out-classed by the Brits, latches on to Colin, relying on him as a friend, confidant, studio spy, and to a certain extent, lover (though the film is never clear just how far this last one goes). Monroe's on-screen mystique was her magnetism -- about every 15 minutes, someone notes, "You can't take your eyes off her" -- with adoration the fuel that powered her; Colin's earnest white knight is just the thing to keep her going.
As Colin lives out every schoolboy's fantasy -- well, lots of people's fantasy, really -- he seems to be the only one who doesn't realize that it is a fantasy. He becomes Marilyn's protector, supplanting her agent, Milt Green (Dominic Cooper, An Education), and more notably, her fanatical and overbearing acting coach, Paula Strasberg (a spot-on Zoe Wanamaker, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone).
While Monroe's life might have consisted of creating fantasies, the film posits that she also lived in something of a fantasy world. In this fantasy, she's the frightened little girl saved by the noble young man; it might be "real" for her in this moment, but there's no question that Colin's thoughts about the future are strictly his own, that even if we didn't know how this story was going to turn out, Colin and Marilyn would never be able to build a life together. Even when she's taken too many prescription medications, she knows just what to say to keep him interested, without saying so much that she'll regret it later.
As envisioned by writer Adrien Hodges and director Simon Curtis, Marilyn is both acutely self-aware and guileless. People are deferential to her as though she's royalty -- they understand she has to be "handled" to get the movie done -- but it often comes off as condescending, something she seems only occasionally to notice. She's acutely aware of her effect on people -- "Shall I be her?" she asks Colin when they encounter a group of her fans -- but seems unconcerned about the consequences of her behavior (showing up late or unprepared for filming, for instance). She claims to not want all the attention, but concedes that she wouldn't change her life if she could.
It's all very much Marilyn as we've come to expect her to be: sexy, vulnerable, temperamental, oblivious, magnetic, and charming. The script isn't exactly insightful -- in fact, it falters when it tries to be. The scenes that detail the minor romance between Marilyn and Colin are well done, but the film really comes to life when it's portraying the hilariously disastrous production of The Prince and the Showgirl, helped mightily by Branagh's terrific performance as the increasingly frazzled Olivier, who'd like nothing more than go all Othello on his leading lady, but has to hold back -- not only is she the bigger star, her production company is financing the film.
Branagh hasn't been this good -- or this much fun to watch -- in ages. His Olivier is a great actor who knows he's a great actor and can barely tolerate the neurotic, undependable Monroe. He fumes about her reliance on method acting, is appalled that she brings her overindulgent coach to the set, and rails about her unprofessionalism. He has no clue how to handle her, and bristles at the thought that Monroe should need to be handled at all. It's the showiest role in My Week with Marilyn, and Branagh makes the most of it.
Julia Ormond (I Know Who Killed Me) gets barely enough screen time to re-create Vivien Leigh, though she does have one scene that suggests the actress's emotional frailty. Faring much better is Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, who had a supporting role in The Prince and the Showgirl. Dench's Thorndike recognizes Marilyn's star quality as well as her fragile nature; it's a warm, grounded performance, and one wishes Dench received more screen time. As the erstwhile Colin, Redmayne, though ostensibly the main character, is given little to do other than feed lines to more seasoned actors in more interesting roles.
The film belongs to Williams. While Hodges's Marilyn is constructed of classic Monroe-isms, and Curtis fetishizes her in a series of familiar calendar-photo moments and re-creations of movie scenes and production numbers, Williams goes against the "greatest-hits" grain to unearth the human being beneath the façade. Sure, there's the requisite physical transformation, but Williams brings much more than platinum hair and curves, speech patterns and giggles. Williams conveys Monroe's intelligence in a way that the script doesn't, and the reheated, repeated melodramatics about holding up the production, drug dependence, and assorted personal crises seem fresh thanks to the actress. I don't know if Williams has that undefinable something Monroe has, but she's certainly able to project it here. Like Marilyn, when Williams is on screen, you can't take your eyes off her.
My Week with Marilyn (Blu-ray) comes courtesy of Anchor Bay. We get a decent-looking 2.35:1/1080p high definition transfer that sports solid detail and an overall clear cinematic image -- just as you'd expect from a recent film. Audio is a solid DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. The disc's a bit light in the supplements department, with a commentary from Curtis, and a featurette, "The Untold Story of an American Icon," which gives us various cast and production members offering their impressions of Monroe, Olivier, and the film in general. There's also a DVD copy of the film.
I'm guessing that anyone interested in sitting through My Week with Marilyn would likely be familiar with the tragedy that was ultimately Monroe. Williams' performance has enough of a fatalistic edge to presage what would be coming a few years down the road.
Unfortunately, Hodges and Curtis inject pseudo-somber moments in which Monroe talks about her insecurities, her unhappy upbringing, and all the other sad Marilyn stuff that's been hashed over in biographies and films for the last half century. It sometimes comes off like a CliffsNotes version of the Monroe story, particularly a scene in which Colin asks about a picture of Abraham Lincoln that she keeps next to her bed, and she explains that Lincoln is her father -- or might as well be, since she never knew her actual father. (I'd always heard that story was about Clark Gable, but whatever.) The fantastic, award-worthy and winning Williams provides enough subtext that scenes like this aren't only unnecessary, they're a tad disingenuous.
Charming and effervescent as its heroine's persona, My Week with Marilyn might not break any new ground as a biopic, but it's a spectacular showcase for the prodigiously talented Michelle Williams.
Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* DVD Copy
* Official Site