Normally when a film about a historical figure finds its way into “awards watch” season you expect a certain level of intrigue from its content.So My Week With Marilyn should by all accounts deliver a little bite. Marilyn Monroe is a staple of American culture. We all know her face her voice her classic lines her wardrobe “malfunctions ” her tumultuous relationship history her power over men and of course that ugly little truth we like to brush under the carpet: the pill addiction that eventually cost her her life. This film purports to give us a look at the “real” Marilyn – the one the millions of representations of her haven’t already shown us. The problem is that by the time the film attempts to explore the darker corners of Monroe’s (Michelle Williams) existence we like our protagonist Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) are already under her spell. Just as we start to condemn her or look at her problems without the biased nostalgic eye most of us are afflicted with the film waves its magic Marilyn wand and quickly abolishes those less glamous notions. The result is a splendid yet decidely indecisive journey with a very complicated and often misunderstood woman
We meet plucky young Colin as he embarks on his first foray into feature films. It’s his dream and thanks to a connection to Sir Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) he’s got a shot at working on a film. But it’s not just any movie; it’s The Prince and Showgirl a marriage of American and English sensibilities starring Olivier and Monroe. When Colin arrives he’s just a third assistant director to Olivier – essentially a go-fer – and can do little but admire Marilyn without hope. He takes up with a wardrobe girl named Lucy (Emma Watson) and goes about his duties. Of course things don’t stay this simple. His newness lends itself to a bit more flexibility so when Olivier’s rigid practices clash with Marilyn’s laissez-faire style and the production begins to slow to a glacial pace Colin is a natural fit to become Marilyn’s willing ally. Their friendship grows as Olivier’s temper comes to a boiling point and the result makes Marilyn a film tinged with a choice number of harsh realities – but as soon as they rear their ugly heads Monroe’s ever-present spell casts itself over them.
Of course this isn’t so much a criticism of the film as it is criticism of the weight given to the content. My Week With Marilyn is beautifully shot allowing the nostalgic air of London and Monroe in the 50s to take the lead with a few contemporary flairs to help keep us along for the ride. Every detail is impeccable from the music to the settings to the dialog. There isn’t a single weak link in the cast. Redmayne displays all the youth and earnest vigor demanded by his young character. Though her character teeters between a layered enigma and the girl the entire world knows Williams handles each angle as easily as Marilyn handles the men around her. Supporting cast members Julia Ormond (as Vivien Leigh) Judi Dench (as Dame Sybil Thorndike) and Branagh put their wealth of experience to tremendous use. Lesser known actors like Dougray Scott and Dominic Cooper take on American accents with minimal issues and handle their supporting characters with ease – and Watson delivers her usual (but welcome) lovely precocious act.
There’s really nothing wrong with My Week With Marilyn. It’s lovely. It’s smart. It’s extremely well-crafted. It’s a good film. But it does little to excite a reaction beyond that. And when you’re dealing with someone we know as well as most of the world knows Marilyn I doubt I’m the only one who expect a little more…va va voom.
1. The Most Likely Hunger Games Flaws
When you come across a series written as powerfully as The Hunger Games you can pretty much guarantee they are going to flub it. It doesn't always go down like that, you do catch Harry Potter style "lightning in a bottle" luck every so often, but the solid majority of great literature is far more likely to be destroyed by proxy once a studio gets ahold of it. As such, here are the likely places they'll misfire on the Hunger Games adaptation, with the caveat being I really hope I'm wrong, because I love the series:
It won't be dark enough.
They are going to need the teen crowd to come out in droves, but that means making the film PG-13. Unfortunately, the series is absolutely vicious at times. It was meant for a young adult audience, but writer Suzanne Collins has put some very adult themes front and center in her trilogy. If the film attempts to lighten the mood it will destroy the value of the work.
The Wrong Katniss.
Take a look at this photo of potential heroines for the critical Katniss role. I feel like Chloe Moretz is the best route to go, though Georgie Henley (of Narnia fame) is an interesting take. I loved Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit, but I don't see her as this generation's Sarah Connor, which is precisely what Katniss embodies. Abigail Breslin is a dynamic young actress, but so far she's played happy far better than she's tackled sad and murderous. No matter what, if they go the wrong way, this project is dead upon arrival.
Marketers selling a different product
I'd love to be in the room when the marketing department is tasked with selling a film about children trying to kill each other for ritual sport. "It's Zombieland meets About a Boy!" I think we can count on the first trailer looking much like the current 127 Hours trailers, completely defanged.
Have they already whiffed on the director?
Months ago I mentioned the project needed a strong director. They went with Gary Ross, whose credits include Seabiscuit and Pleasantville. I think Ross will be visually dynamic, which is great, as there is certainly a sci-fi element to the story. But I worry about his range. There's a chance they would have been better off with a horror director, one who could dial it back a few degrees. This is a story light on dialogue and heavy on emotions. Here's hoping Ross works it out, despite the odds and the rabid fan base he's facing off against.
2. Recreating the Day the Makers of The Source Code Saw Inception
Studio Executive #1: Wow.
Studio Executive #2: I know.
Studio Executive #1: I mean, just wow.
Studio Executive #2: Yeah, I heard you the first time.
Studio Executive #1: What should we do?
Studio Executive #2: I say we just make the poster look exactly the same. Same colors, same twisting confusion, same everything.
Studio Executive #1: But people are going to know it's not Inception! We've got Jake Gyllenhaal front and center!
Studio Executive #2: Ugh. What a catastrophe. Just make him really small, and put tons of photos whirling around him.
Studio Executive #1: Okay, but what do we do about the synopsis?
Studio Executive #2: You mean how our movie is about entering someone's body while Inception is about entering people's dreams?
Studio Executive #1: Yeah, what do we do about that?
Studio Executive #2: Let's just release it in April and call it a day.
Studio Executive #1: But, but, isn't April is a complete dumping ground? I mean, that's where we put The Scorpion King!
Studio Executive #2: Mmmmhmmm.
Studio Executive #1: Ahhh, I see. (pause) Do you think we'll get a bad performance appraisal for this?
Studio Executive #2: For what?
Studio Executive #1: For not knowing Christopher Nolan was making a modern classic and greenlighting a film that looks to be about 35 percent as good, tops?
Studio Executive #2: Nah. If we start actively ignoring it starting right now I think we're golden.
Studio Executive #1: Solid! I guess you could say our source code has been changed!
Studio Executive #2: Er, I think we've actually been Incepted.
Both double over in laughter and then head out to get lunch at the strip club.
3. Felicity Jones Wins Sundance
Like most of the world, you probably missed her in The Tempest. Thankfully, the chances of you missing her in Like Crazy are much slimmer given Paramount's $4m buy at Sundance this year. Felicity's performance is nothing short of miraculous, completely out of nowhere, powerful yet smooth. She plays a character named Anna, and at the start she is definitely rocking the whole "manic pixie dream girl" vibe that Cameron Crowe (one of my favorites) adores. But the character evolves and shows real depth, and Jones is up to the performance. She also allows co-star Anton Yelchin to shine, so much so that I forgot he was Chekov in Star Trek while I was watching him.
I could see her slipping into a Natalie Portman level of career. She's 27, so she'll be able to pull off almost any role (short of Grandmother) for the next five to seven years. My fervent hope is that she continues to handle the "heavy lifting" dramatic work, aiming for Oscars, because I'm certain she'll be offered every romantic comedy script out there. And she’s much better than that, regardless of the paychecks involved.
On that note, I'm off to pen a romantic comedy script whilst requesting a Felicity Jones 1:1 interview.
Check out last week's Movie Musings here.
Laremy is the lead critic and senior producer for a website named Film.com. He's also available on Twitter.
Perhaps Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows should have been a trilogy. Splitting the sprawling finale to author J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard saga into three parts — as opposed to its chosen two-part incarnation — might have come across as shameless profiteering (admittedly a not-uncommon practice in this town) but it wouldn’t have been without merit. At 759 pages Rowling’s source novel is said to be a rather dense work plot-wise; surely it could have easily warranted another installment?
I only say this because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 though certainly a decent film clearly strains from the effort required to fit the book’s proceedings into a two-act structure. While Part 2 slated to open approximately six months from now is alotted the story's meaty parts — namely the spectacular Battle of Hogwarts and its emotional denouement — Part 1 must bear the burden of setting the stage for the grand confrontation between the forces of Light and Dark magic and framing the predicament of its three protagonists teen wizards Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) in suitably dire terms. And it's quite a heavy burden indeed.
As the film opens the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) having assumed control over Hogwarts since the events of the preceding film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has wasted no time in initiating his reign of terror. As far as historical evil-dictator analogues are concerned Voldemort appears partial to the blueprint laid by Stalin as opposed to that of his genocidal pact-pal Hitler. Enemies of the Dark Lord's regime are prosecuted in dramatic show trials presided over by the Grand Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) while muggles (non-magic folk) and half-bloods are denounced as "undesirables" and “mudbloods” in Soviet-style propaganda posters and forced to register with the authorities.
As the only viable threat to Voldemort’s dominion Harry and his allies are hunted vigorously by Bellatrix LeStrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and her goon squad of Death Eaters. The Boy Who Lived now fully grown and in more or less complete command of his powers is still no match England's nasally scourge. Labeled "Undesirable No. 1" by the Gestapo-like Ministry of Magic he's is forced to go on the lam where he labors along with Ron and Hermione to solve the riddle of Voldemort’s immortality.
For those not well-versed in Rowling’s source material the film’s opening act is a frustrating blur: After an all-too-brisk update on the bleak state of affairs in Hogwarts we are hastily introduced (or re-introduced) to a dozen or so characters the majority of whom are never seen again. A few even perish off-screen. Had we gotten a chance to get to know them we might be able to mourn them as our heroes do; instead we’re left racking our brains trying to recall who they were and how they figured in the plot.
Rowling's flaws as a storyteller — the over-reliance on deus ex machina devices (in this case we get both a doe ex machina and a Dobby ex machina) the ponderous downloads of information (not unlike those of that other uber-anticipated and somewhat overrated 2010 tentpole Inception) the annoying ability of characters to simply teleport (or "disapparate") away from danger etc. — are more evident in this film than in previous chapters. And rather than obscure these flaws director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves both franchise veterans arguably amplify them.
What saves the film are Rowling's three greatest achievements: Harry Ron and Hermione who along with the actors who play them have evolved beyond the material. The film's narrative gains its emotional footing during the heroic threesome's exile ostensibly a series of camping trips — with tents and everything — during which they reflect on their journey together the challenge that awaits them and the sacrifices it will require. Though they occasionally verge on tedious these excursions into Gethsemane allow us precious quality time with these characters that we've grown to adore over the course of seven films even if the plaintive air is spoiled a bit by some rather puzzling attempts at product placement. In their rush to flee the Dementors and Death Eaters it seems that they at least took care to pack the latest in fall fashion:
As devout readers of Rowling's novels know all too well the only foolproof shield against Voldemort's minions is the Bananicus Republicum charm.