Film Review: My Week With Marilyn (2011)

My Week with Marilyn is a very clever film. It masquerades as a biopic of Marilyn Monroe and a simple coming of age romance. The depth and joy of the film comes in the quiet commentary on the backroom manipulation that happens every day in the entertainment industry. Colin Clark is convinced he wants to work in the movies. Not as an actor, but as a production person. Through perseverance and the fortune of having wealthy well-connected parents, he lands a job as the third assistant director on a Sir Laurence Olivier film. Olivier has agreed, against his better judgment, to cast Marilyn Monroe as his leading lady. Soon it becomes Colin's job to keep Miss Monroe happy, and Sir Olivier happy, and Marilyn's people happy, and the producers happy.

The cast of this film is extraordinary. There is not one actor misfit for their role. From the not as innocent as he seems eagerness of Eddie Redmayne as Colin to Michelle Williams deeply bodied interpretation of Marilyn Monroe, the film is a feast for fans of great acting. Even performers with small roles, like Judi Dench and Emma Watson, are able to take some of the driest scenes and make them sparkle.

The true star of this film is Adrian Hodges' screenplay. Adapted from the memoirs by the real Colin Clark, My Week with Marilyn becomes a masterclass in layering subtext. Hodges places Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier in a perennial acting conflict--the right school of acting--that can only be mediated by outside forces. Marilyn chooses her acting coach while Sir Laurence chooses young Colin Clark. While Marilyn and Colin develop a relationship together, it becomes apparent that their relationship is now the bargaining chip in the conflict between Oliver's people and Marilyn's team. The great surprise of the film is putting together all of the pieces laid down so quietly in the first few minutes of the feature.

I can praise a lot of the elements of this film. The cinematography makes itself known as soon as we begin to see the film within the film recorded and projected during the film. From the initial black and white screen-test of Marilyn to the heightened recreations of iconic musical performances from Marilyn's career, Ben Smithard does amazing work playing up the differences in the various film references. Jill Taylor's costume designs are presented with a great eye for detail. She has the challenge of recreating Marilyn Monroe's wardrobe and the costumes scene in the film within the film. As if that weren't enough, she then showboats by pulling together coordinated suits/sweaters/shirts/ties for Colin that made me envious of his work clothes. The original score by Conrad Pope--a play on an original theme written by Alexandre Desplat for piano--just adds that nice sense of period melodrama that makes something as simple as Marilyn extending her arm into an event.

There will be people who dismiss this as just a performance showcase. That is a shame. My Week with Marilyn hits on one of the strangest aspects of the entertainment industry without casting judgement. It is everyone's job to keep everyone else happy at all costs. Those unwilling to do so force others to play both sides of a conflict, putting their sanity and career on the line just to make the film. This film exposes the nuances of onset spin in a way I've never seen captured before. And that's just the subtext.

Rating: 8/10

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