(This review was originally published on November 23, 2011 at The Rogers Revue)
Has anyone ever really gotten the Marilyn Monroe biopic thing right?
Not in my opinion. But even Mira Sorvino’s depiction of the platinum blonde bombshell opposite Ashley Judd’s innocent but tragically scarred alter ego in the 1996 HBO movie “Norma Jean and Marilyn” was vastly more captivating than Simon Curtis’s “My Week With Marilyn”, which qualifies as nothing more than a mediocre made-for-cable movie.
Though the HBO film occurred toward the end of the superstar’s life, both of these pieces originated from the written perspective of a man who had attempted to examine, and perhaps fix, the delicate mental state of the enigmatic actress. Unfortunately, Curtis’s acumen with crafting TV movies and miniseries (BBC’s “Cranford”, “David Copperfield”) is too apparent in this film that infuses about as much realism into the story of Monroe’s life as “The Kennedys” did earlier this year. Occurring at the beginning of her international success, “My Week With Marilyn” was, in my opinion, meant to be an acute observation of a massive transition in her life, both personal and professional, just prior to the peak of her superstardom.
In 1956, a young aspiring filmmaker named Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne, “The Other Boleyn Girl”, next year’s “Les Misérables” ), finds himself working on the set of a Marilyn Monroe picture called “The Sleeping Prince” (released as “The Prince and the Showgirl” in 1957) as an uncredited 3rd assistant to actor/director Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). Monroe (Michelle Williams)is only weeks into a marriage with her third husband, renowned playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), who accompanies her on her first trip to England for the movie.
Curtis’s film is based on two books by Colin Clark himself: My Week With Marilyn and The Prince, the Showgirl and Me.
In the film, Clark becomes infatuated by the superstar. Meanwhile, Miller becomes fed up with Marilyn’s erratic behavior and retreats back to New York City. Soon thereafter, the budding apprentice becomes Monroe’s crutch and guide in England, including a visit to one of his relatives who happens to be the royal librarian at Windsor Castle (this portion of the story is actually kind of interesting). And that seems to be where the excitement tapers off. Somehow, I didn’t get the feeling that this was a particularly exciting week for Marilyn.
Though her arrival in England is treated with the dramatic tact of a moon landing (her bewilderment is a bit overblown), we do understand that this is the 1950′s, but that only allows for so many conventions before the film gets tiresome. And when Curtis delves into the dynamic of the lead characters, it starts to play out like the next installment of any other TV miniseries, only with very little going on.
As separate components of the film, most of the actors fulfill their roles: Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench as the matriarchal Sybil Thornbike (both for which I’ve heard chirping of Oscar nominations) and Emma Watson (The “Harry Potter” series) as Lucy, perhaps the most down-to-earth character of the lot. But a surprisingly cartoonish turn by Dominic Cooper (most recently notable in “The Devil’s Double”) and a limited and lackluster role by Julia Ormond as Olivier’s tolerant but wary wife Vivien Leigh are major disappointments. Too bad Michelle Williams, as with most actors who have tried in the past, couldn’t sustain the role of the title character long enough to make us forget about the film’s lack of charm.
If not for some grownup language (a few neatly placed F-Bombs is about all), “My Week With Marilyn” would have been a PG-rated depiction of a young man’s experience with the sexiest movie star of the 1950’s. Simon Curtis, whose career consists predominantly of British television movies and mini-series, manages this tepid piece from a screenplay by Adrian Hodges that is just good enough to make me irritated by the effort.
Redmayne plays Clark with the starry-eyed enthusiasm of a cabana boy, and though a bit overzealous in the role is still exceptionally likable. His relationship with Williams’ version of Monroe seems to work on some level, but only because the characters exist on the same unrealistic plane. Perhaps the fact that the film is a biopic helps create an aura of what we’d imagine the 1950′s film industry to be, but their interactions are still about as believable as watching the actual film “The Prince and the Showgirl” and expecting them to act like they would in real life. And that seems to result in a film about Marilyn Monroe without much sex appeal, charm or controversy.
“My Week With Marilyn” is not a complete failure, but for a film attempting to establish such a dramatic contrast between Monroe’s vivacious personality on set and the troubled, insecure soul that existed behind the scenes, Curtis plays it awfully safe. I guess if there were a sound connection to be had between the actress and the audience, it might be better found somewhere in the memoirs of the author.