During Marilyn Monroe’s (Oscar® Nominee Michelle Williams) first trip to London to film “The Prince and the Showgirl,” with Sir Laurence Olivier (Oscar® Nominee Kenneth Branagh), she befriends Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), an ambitious 23 year-old production assistant on the set. As their relationship progresses Colin’s focus shifts from making his way in the film business to rescuing her from the pressures of celebrity life. When Monroe’s new husband, playwright Arthur Miller, makes a brief trip to Paris, Clark takes the opportunity to introduce her to the world outside of Hollywood fame. Based on the true story by Colin Clark, this memoir describes a magical week in which Monroe opens herself up to a stranger and finds in him a confidant and an ally.
Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, but imitating an iconic personality can be, at best, a risky endeavor. Toss in the name Marilyn Monroe, one of the most recognizable and revered stars in the history of show business, and the stakes - and potential pitfalls - multiply exponentially. So, like her or not, you've got to hand it to Michelle Williams, who does a damn fine job channeling the blonde, bosomy, heartbreakingly vulnerable, and mentally fragile Monroe in director Simon Curtis' 'My Week with Marilyn.' Let's face it, the girl's got guts. Taking on someone as familiar and beloved as MM is a tall order for any actress and invites criticism of the severest degree, yet Williams captures not only the look, but also the essence of the icon. She really gets under Marilyn's celebrated skin, exposing her deep-seeded insecurities, desperate desire to be loved, appreciated, and respected, and the sense of innocence and fun that, along with her smoldering sexuality, seduced the world. It's quite a performance - tender, understated, and, most of all, supremely deferential to its subject.
I know an awful lot about Marilyn Monroe. I've read several biographies, seen practically all of her films, listened to her recordings, and written about her work. I guess you could call me a fan, but my fascination with Monroe goes well beyond her underrated talent and explosive sex appeal to the complex human being lurking underneath - a smart, savvy, ambitious, yet painfully sensitive woman who created and exploited an intoxicating persona, but, much to her chagrin, could not control or escape it. It served her well in the beginning, lofting her to the pinnacle of her trade, but the carefully constructed dumb blonde, coquettish image soon consumed her professionally and tortured her personally, and though she fought hard to break free, it became a trap.
And so I'd be lying if I didn't admit to some initial reticence accepting Williams as Monroe, even as I sat admiring her portrayal. I just know Monroe's voice and mannerisms so well, I couldn't shake the rueful feeling that what I really wanted was to see Monroe herself acting out her own story. Yet Williams gradually won me over, and as I reflected on her work after the film ended, my appreciation for what she accomplished intensified. As I write this, I'm sitting on an airplane watching the movie again on an in-flight monitor - without sound - and I'm struck even more by the finely etched nature of her performance. Williams "gets" Marilyn, and her work doesn't need dialogue to be persuasive and involving.
'My Week with Marilyn' follows the supposedly true experiences of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a 23-year-old British production assistant, who lands his first film job on what would come to be called 'The Prince and the Showgirl,' a mediocre romantic comedy most notable for the incongruous yet irresistible pairing of Monroe and arguably the greatest actor of his generation, Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). Newly married to playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), Monroe comes to England to shoot the movie with her acting coach, the over-protective and outspoken Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), and manager, the controlling and suspicious Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper), in tow. Miller, who abhors the publicity circus Marilyn inspires and the emotional hand-holding necessary to maintain her equilibrium - which, consequently, stymies his own creativity - quickly flees back to the States, leaving Marilyn to deal with the exacting attitude, impatience, and condescension of the stuffy Olivier (who is also the picture's director) on her own. Olivier has no tolerance for Monroe's method acting and no sympathy for her chronic lateness and the insecurities that fuel it, and as the production progresses, the pressure takes a toll on Marilyn's already frayed nerves. Lost and lonely, she seeks comfort with the starstruck Clark, whose fresh-faced innocence and caring nature touch her. Their relationship, as depicted on film, is largely platonic (although they do skinny-dip in a lake and steal a few kisses), but Colin gets a rare inside look at the many moods and varied sides of the troubled actress, from playful abandon to sober introspection, and in return, she makes an indelible impression upon him.
Redmayne strikes just the right tone as the still-wet-behind-the-ears Colin, projecting a starry-eyed wonder and tender grace that meshes well with Williams' finely shaded portrayal. Branagh makes an excellent foil, too, lacing his Olivier with a thin layer of arrogance, ego, and self-absorption. Though Monroe exasperates him, so too does his wife, Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond), a diagnosed manic-depressive who sees her once lofty career slipping away due to her advancing age. The only woman Olivier truly seems to honor is Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench), an esteemed actress who plays his mother-in-law on screen and acts as a supportive advocate for Marilyn off screen. Thorndike champions Monroe, and while she realizes Marilyn is not classically trained, she immediately recognizes her unique communicative gift...a gift the begrudging Olivier takes quite a bit longer to understand and admire.
As a film, 'My Week with Marilyn' is little more than a trifle, a frothy, engaging period piece that provides a snapshot of Monroe's psyche. The wispy plot is merely a frame on which to hang a character study, and that study allows those of us who only know Marilyn's ceaselessly marketed sexpot image the chance to see what lies behind it. We don't, of course, see everything; we see what Colin sees, but it's enough to bring this most elevated cinema goddess down to earth. The dark side of Monroe remains largely hidden, but we can tell demons are at work, and know they're influence upon her will sadly increase during her remaining five years on the planet. Thankfully, though, for those of us who love Marilyn, Curtis' film paints a mostly positive portrait of a troubled yet vivacious, sensitive spirit whose most faithful and devoted lover was the camera. And up there on the screen, Marilyn Monroe lives forever.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'My Week with Marilyn' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and default audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. When the disc is inserted into the player, previews for 'W./E.,' 'Coriolanus,' 'The Descendants,' and 'The Iron Lady' precede the full motion menu with music.
A clean, clear image distinguishes the video transfer for 'My Week with Marilyn,' which is practically devoid of grain, yet still possesses a warm, rich glow that suits the period 1950s setting well. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 effort features a strong color palette that maximizes the lush greens of the English countryside and such bold hues as Monroe's red lipstick. Black levels are solid and deep, the white of Monroe's signature 'Prince and the Showgirl' gown is crisp and well-defined, and fleshtones are stable and true. Very good shadow delineation and easily discernible background elements add depth and texture to the picture, while fabrics and upholstery exhibit a nice level of detail.
Contrast is a tad muted, however, lending the image a slightly flat look and sapping it of any true dimensionality. Maybe such a look is intentional, as it highlights the air of memory that swirls about the film, but I would have preferred a more immediate, vibrant feel. Close-ups also exude a hint of softness, though facial features always come across well defined. Best of all, no noise, banding, edge enhancement, or other digital imperfections or doctoring disrupt the film's flow or the simple beauty of this solid transfer.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track provides pleasing, if rather pedestrian, sound. 'My Week with Marilyn' never pushes the limits of dynamic range and hardly ever employs the rear speakers, but its largely front-based audio is always clear and flaunts a lovely depth of tone. Mild stereo separation adds a bit of aural interest and atmospherics occasionally bleed ever so slightly into the rears, but that's the extent of movement in this standard mix. Dialogue, even when uttered in Marilyn's signature breathy style, is always clear, well prioritized, and easy to understand, and the musical interludes that bookend the film enjoy good fidelity and fill the room with warm tones. (As a stickler for historical accuracy where anything relating to cinema is concerned, I must admit to a severe degree of disappointment that the recreations of Marilyn's 'Heat Wave' and 'That Old Black Magic' numbers - from 'There's No Business Like Show Business' and 'Bus Stop,' respectively - look absolutely nothing like they do in those movies. While I understand budget constraints, logistics, and the distasteful prospect of comparison with Monroe's actual work most likely dissuaded the film's creative team from faithfully depicting these performances, they nevertheless badly misrepresent them here, and that's a shame. Both look like filmed nightclub acts, which couldn't be further from how they were originally presented.)
Accents, such as the popping of flashbulbs, are crisp and distinct, and a hint of bass lends the audio a firm foundation. No distortion ever creeps into the track, and no hiss or surface defects destroy the integrity of this well-balanced effort. 'My Week with Marilyn' won't test the limits of your system, but it will pump out good quality sound that seamlessly complements this understated movie.
Just a couple of supplements are included on the disc.
Some regard Marilyn Monroe as a tragic figure, but 'My Week with Marilyn' celebrates the ebullience and sensitivity of the iconic star without sugarcoating her frailties. The movie's success hinges on Michelle Williams' performance, and the actress delivers with a finely tuned portrayal, balancing impersonation with an instinctive knowledge of the emotions and insecurities that fueled, enhanced, and ultimately destroyed Monroe. A sterling supporting cast and unobtrusive direction contribute to the air of fond memory swirling about this light, engaging film that both Marilyn admirers and neophytes will enjoy and appreciate. Solid video and audio and a couple of extras complement the presentation, and help this disc earn a firm, if not enthusiastic, recommendation. Unless you're a Monroe (or Williams) fanatic, you might want to rent this one first, just to make sure it's your cup of tea.