What’s the first thing you think when you hear the word, “biopic”? Oscar bait. And why not? Out of the last ten sets of Best Actor nominations, eight of them have included an actor playing a historical figure. Five of those eight nominees won the award. The ladies have fared even better, with a whopping thirteen actresses nominated in that span of time, another five taking home the gold. So, when I saw that one of my favorite modern actresses was going to play the amazing Marylin Monroe in a November release, my interest was piqued. Would Michelle Williams deserve another Oscar nomination for Best Actress, her second in as many years? The answer is an easy yes in a film that’s lacks a bit in energy and drive but more than makes up for it in pure acting gold.
The story is a basic one: a young English aristocrat named Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) travels to London to pursue the lower class craft of filmmaking. The year is 1956 and Colin’s first job is one of a “third director’s assistant” on the film The Prince and the Showgirl, starring Laurence Oliver and the most famous woman in the world, Marylin Monroe. Colin is instantly smitten by the American starlet, not only by her stunning beauty but by her vulnerability. Monroe is a stranger in the stuffed shirt world of British film acting and immediately finds herself the focus of distrust and ridicule, dragging her deeper into her own depression. Connecting with the actress on a number of different levels, Colin starts to befriend Marilyn, setting forth a number of improbable events that changes the life of the young filmmaker forever.
In films of this type, you go for the portrayal of the historic character and everything else is just gravy. In this respect, My Week With Marilyn succeeds in every respect. Michelle Williams not only masters the beats and rhythms that made Monroe the queen of American pop culture, she digs deep to find the star’s insecurities as well. William’s Monroe is conflicted and confused by the strange world she finds herself in and when she meets the kindly young Colin, finds herself a merry distraction from the pressures of being her. Redmayne also does a great job as the eager young filmmaker, perfectly balancing British politeness and genuine care in a performance that is wonderfully restrained. The two have a pleasant yet spark-free relationship, which causes the film to stall a bit halfway through. The supporting cast is also wonderful, including a great cameo by Dougray Scott as Monroe’s third husband, Arthur Miller and some fine work by Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier, the films main antagonist. The scene stealer of the film, however, has to be the lovely Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike. Dench exudes sweet charm as Marilyn’s supportive co-star and is a treat every time she makes an appearance. Dench is a lovely woman and her zest for life jumps off screen in what I hope is an Oscar nominated role for Best Supporting Actress.
All that said, the film is not without a few bumps in the road. While well shot and featuring some good direction, there is no tension to speak of. Like I mentioned earlier, the relationship between Colin and Marilyn is sweet one and while there is some obvious attraction between the twosome, the film never develops any genuine spark, despite a few scenes that obviously tries to do so. The result is a movie that sags in the middle and tends to drag, despite the great acting on display. Also, there is a strange side romance between Colin and the wardrobe girl, played by Emma Watson. While designed to show the consequence of having a fling with a superstar, the relationship is never cemented nor is the Watson character developed, making it strangely awkward every time the two are on screen. Despite these flaws, good acting by a great cast wins out, making a My Week With Marilyn for fans of both Michelle Williams and the starlet she perfectly portrays. Sure, playing historical figures can seem like a quick ticket to Oscar night but in the end, you have to play those people well. Williams more than does so in what is sure to be a nominated role, and one of the best female performances I’ve seen thus far this year.
Score – 80%
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