Review: My Week With Marilyn

Directed by: Simon Curtis
Written by:Adrian Hodges
Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Julia Ormond, Emma Watson, Toby Jones
Released: February 16, 2012
Grade: C+

There are three serious contenders for best actress at the upcoming Academy Awards – Viola Davis in The Help (who won the Screen Actors Guild Award), Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady (who won the Golden Globe – Drama) and Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn (who won the Golden Globe – Comedy).

The question I’d like to throw out there is… what makes a good performance?  How would you differentiate between these three wonderful actresses?  There are varying schools of thought and I’m not here to proclaim that there’s a right answer.  Such is the nature of any award that involves a degree of subjectivity.

If I were a voting member of the Academy however, I’d be putting a tick next to the name of Viola Davis.  It’s not that I dislike Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams.  I think they’re both very talented.  Michelle Williams’ performance in Take This Waltz, my favourite film from last year’s Toronto Film Festival, is incredible.  I can’t wait for it to be widely released later this year.

My problem with Streep and Williams is that they’ve been nominated in films that I don’t really care for.  Looking at Streep in The Iron Lady, I admit that she’s done a terrific job looking and sounding like the real Margaret Thatcher.  However, the film’s screenplay holds her back.  It doesn’t dig deep enough into her character and the film, as a whole, left me with no new perspective on one of the most intriguing leaders of the 20th Century.

I left the theatre with similar thoughts after seeing My Week With Marilyn.  The story is set in 1956 and centres on a 23-year-old named Colin (Redmayne) who is looking to break into the film industry.  After pulling a few family strings, he’s landed the job as the third assistant director on a new movie titled The Prince And The Showgirl.  It’s to be directed by Laurence Olivier (Branagh) and will feature one of the world’s biggest stars, Marilyn Monroe (Williams).

From the moment she became involved in the project, Marilyn was “hard work”.  She’d always arrive late to the set.  She’d often forget her lines.  She’s regularly question the director about the script.  Why was she like this though?  Was she a prima-donna who loves the power and the attention?  Or was she a vulnerable, insecure woman who was often misunderstood?

The naïve Colin was the only person who seemed to be able to get close enough to find the answers.  Marilyn developed a soft spot for the young lad and the two started spending time together off set.  Everyone warned Colin about the dangers of getting close to this married starlet but it’s pretty hard to say “no” to Miss Monroe.

The subject matter is interesting but I was disappointed with its delivery.  The screenplay is repetitious.  I tweeted to a friend afterwards – “Marilyn turns up late to the set 10 times, people warn young kid about Marilyn 20 times. The end.”  I’m being a little simplistic but it gets the message across.

Also working against the film is that fact that Colin is a dull character.  We watch him learn about movie-making and see him seduce a young costume assistant (Watson).  For what purpose?  Marilyn is clearly the most fascinating person in this story so why not tell it from her perspective?  I wanted to know more about her… and not Colin!

I’ll replicate my comments above and say that, like Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, Michelle Williams has done a great job capturing the exterior of her character… but failed to provide much insight on her interior.