Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Week With Marilyn - The Young Man in the 22nd Row Tells All

When your name is Harvey Weinstein and you’re looking to figure prominently in the discussion around the award show water cooler at year’s end, you push out a biopic. The Aviator. Finding Neverland. Miss Potter. Factory Girl. Nowhere Boy. The King’s Speech. Pick any of those, and you're still not past 2004.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there really aren’t many drawbacks to making biopics. Studios love them because they’re usually able to get a big name actor to play whichever historical figure’s on the docket, stand a very good chance at making some dough, and might get some hardware. Actors love them because if they prove to be particularly good at mimicry, wearing that prosthetic nose, and bringing that historical figure to life, they stand a good chance of gaining a ton of critical recognition and, yes, getting some hardware. Audiences love them because they usually get to enjoy a rags-to-riches story and have the opportunity to feel better about all of the times they fell asleep in high school when they were supposed to be learning about these folks in the first place.

2011, in particular, has so many biopics as to inspire washed-up conspiracy theorists everywhere to come out of retirement. Initially, My Week With Marilyn wasn’t something I was particularly enthusiastic about, particularly when compared to something like J. Edgar, The Iron Lady, or A Dangerous Method. But, as fate would have it, it was the first that I had the chance to see and, for whatever reason, I got pretty excited about seeing it. I think I unexpectedly fell a little bit in love with Michelle Williams after seeing the adverts so many times.

My Week With Marilyn tells the story of Colin Clark, a 24 year old British aristocrat with a dream of working in the movie business. After working his connections, he becomes third assistant director on the set of Laurence Olivier’s The Prince and the Showgirl, a starring vehicle for Sir Laurence and Marilyn Monroe. When Marilyn starts to crumble underneath pressures both personal and professional, she and Colin form an unlikely connection and spend a bit of a “lost week” together.

As promising as that sounds, it seems to me that the primary thing that holds the film back is that it's told from the perspective of the young man, Colin, instead of the movie star, Marilyn. I think that it would have been much more effective and infinitely more interesting to have been able to start with her, stay with her, and see exactly what made her tick and what caused her idiosyncrasies.

To that end, while watching the film, there were a ton of times that I really wanted to get some sense of what exactly was in her head. There are moments when she seems so lost and so overwhelmed, and then there are others in which she seems to be in complete control of her image. I wish there had been some dot connectors to point out where the woman ended and the movie star began.

For what she was given, Michelle Williams (who's sure to get a ton of award nominations and maybe a few statuettes) is really good. While she’s a terrific choice to play the actress formerly known as Norma Jeane Baker, sadly, I don’t think the script fully equips her to bring her complete set of talents to bear. It’s not Williams being inconsistent so much as it’s Simon Curtis’ script that’s incomplete.

As for Eddie Redmayne’s turn as Colin Clark, it’s solid, but the half-baked script holds him back too. At the beginning of the film, he seemed to be a bit of a greenback. You know, means well but doesn’t have a lot of practical life or work experience? Well, the kid decides to park his keister on the couch of Olivier’s production company’s office until he’s given some kind of job to do. Good, right? Shows initiative. But when he’s finally given a task by the film producer, he handles it, we’re led to believe, without any problems at all. Uh, hello! He was asked to get NOEL COWARD’s number, which, I might add, he’s told is unlisted. That’s no small thing. How about a moment a la Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada? It’s a real chance to gain more insight into his character. How does he get stuff like that done? While we see him get them into Windsor Castle later through a family connection, we have no idea how he gets that pesky number. Did he rely on another connection? Did he struggle before finally getting it done? Was he really just that good? I’d have liked to have seen that process outlined rather than being given “BOOM, it’s done!” as an answer.

I get it. Boy meets movie star. Boy falls hopelessly in love with movie star. On that level, his performance is very effective, but, as with Williams', more was needed. I know that the scene I’ve described might seem petty and inconsequential in the big picture, but it would have contributed significantly to fleshing out his character and making him that much more three-dimensional instead of relying on such a simplistic character outline.

The rest of the cast is uniformly solid, with particular props going to a scene-stealing Kenneth Branagh as Lawrence Olivier. He’s fantastic, and I hope he gets some much-deserved love at year’s-end. Judi Dench is really good too, and has a wonderful line about how much mascara a woman should wear. However, the one person that completely surprised me was Dougray Scott. It struck me that the guy playing Arthur Miller was really believable, but I had no idea whatsoever that it was Scott until the end credits. Seeing Julia Ormond (one of my favorites!) pop up as Vivien Leigh was a nice surprise too. After The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Temple Grandin, and The Music Never Stopped, it seems like she’s back.

Lastly, I think My Week With Marilyn ends one (or two, if you count the end credit musical sequence) scene too late. There’s a wonderful shot of Colin staring at a blank movie screen in a small theater that seemed announced itself as the film’s final shot . . . and then things continued with a bit that’s supposed to tie things off in a knot when I think, ironically, a messier approach would have served the film better. By that point, by all intents and purposes, the film was done, and to try and spell everything out was the wrong choice.

It’s really too bad. While My Week With Marilyn isn’t a bad film and certainly isn’t unenjoyable by any stretch, a real opportunity’s been missed here. It strikes me as a bit odd that we’ve got a definitive look at the formation of Facebook on the books, but there’s no authoritative piece on the life of one of the cinema’s biggest stars.

There’s a wonderful scene in the middle of the picture. Colin is sent to a much-the-worse-for-wear Marilyn’s dressing room to find out what’s keeping her from the set. He gets starstruck, and ends up revealing that one of his jobs is, essentially, to spy on her. A bleary-eyed Marilyn looks up at him and asks, “Colin, whose side are you on?” He looks back at her, eyes wide with a heart no longer his own, and says, “Yours, Miss Monroe.” I only wish that My Week With Marilyn had been able to say the same thing.

3 1/2 stars (out of 5)

1 comment:

Christina said...

I cannot comment on the film, but I can say that I love your writing style. Nicely done!