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.
Cambridge-educated Tony Wilson is a young but established TV journalist in Manchester who is fed up with his silly assignments be they hang-gliding adventures or an interview with a midget who cares for elephants. When one evening he catches an unknown band called the Sex Pistols at a poorly attended show he becomes a believer in what is the new and rebellious punk movement. Taking a chance he opens a club to give new punk bands exposure becoming a major promoter of the punk movement. But hardly the exemplary capitalist he's motivated by gut feelings and passion and his belief in Manchester as the epicenter of new music. Wilson does discover several bands that go on to varying degrees of success and notoriety including Joy Division/New Order and the Happy Mondays but punk values and the lifestyle take their toll. There are the premature deaths marital breakups including Wilson's first marriage and drug lords who wield too much influence in Wilson's club. His own loosey-goosey ways with his record business and artist contracts leads to his label's demise. Through it all Wilson keeps his day job as TV personality and never lets go his allegiance to his beloved Manchester flag.
Thanks to 24 Hour Party People Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson may well become a star in Yank country. Known to TV audiences in the U.K. Wilson with a background in comedy is a brilliant and compelling presence as the film's drolly ironic and obviously learned hero. All supporting roles here are superb including Andy Serkis as doomed and messed up producer Martin Hannett Rob Brydon as Ryan Letts and Shirley Henderson as Wilson's first wife Shirley.
Michael Winterbottom who so brilliantly directed Welcome to Sarajevo but disappointed with The Claim again triumphs here. Employing an arsenal of special effects and using DV Winterbottom perfectly captures an era a rock movement a place and the authentic spirit of a hugely intelligent and appealing maverick entrepreneur whose field of vision extended well above the bottom line.
Tommy (Donnie Montemarano) has yet again been released from prison. The night he gets out he hooks up with his old buddy and onetime partner in crime Mic (Vinny Argiro) who wants to go legit. Mic's been working at a seedy adult porn shop to save money for the two of them to get to Vegas and become casino dealers; he even bought two one-way tickets on a Greyhound departing the next morning. Tommy is having none of it--he'd rather pull off a couple more jobs and quadruple what little money Mic's hoarded. The men start the evening off in Mic's little room at the Golden Eagle hotel a filthy decrepit flophouse on Los Angeles' skid row whose seemingly permanent tenants include Mr. Maynard a 1930s tap dancing star (real-life tap dancer Fayard Nicholas) and an old bum named Sylvester (Sam Moore of '60s soul singing duo Sam & Dave fame). There's also an assortment of whores ("hoo-ers " as Tommy calls them) Sally (Ann Magnuson) Amber (Natasha Lyonne) and junior high schooler Ruby (Nicole Jacobs) and their repellent pimp Rodan (Vinnie Jones). Everyone's paths cross as the hours pass on this sweltering summer night and the course of events turns as depressing and piteous as the wretched place where they live.
Montemarano (who looks vaguely like a worn-out Gene Hackman) has never acted a day in his life but you wouldn't believe it the way he comes off as the archetypal small-time con. Could be that's because he is--as an Italian growing up in Brooklyn he became a capo for the Colombo family and served 10 years in the big house for racketeering. He was cast in this movie thanks to childhood friend and co-star Argiro who left Brooklyn early on and fell into his own acting career quite by accident. It stands to reason then that their chemistry in these roles is pure true and honest. While they may only be acting their pasts completely influence their performances. Magnuson overacts the "hoo-er" thing (plus she's a little too classy a broad to be hanging out in skid row even given her age). Lyonne appears all too briefly (luuv her white platforms) but her role is pivotal and she plays it scarily real. Natividad is a revelation--pubescently alluring she balances the high wire between adult sexual awareness and the childlike innocence she loses forever after the night at the Golden Eagle. Jones strikes just the right gritty note as a malevolent dispicable pimp. Other supporting characters are well cast especially the young front desk clerk who provides a scant bit of comic relief. (James Caan who also has known the lead actors for years makes a quick cameo as a prison guard.)
If he set out to make the darkest most depressing most disquieting movie he could director Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City) accomplished just that. Night at the Golden Eagle comes off more like a play set in one location (with a few exceptions every scene takes place in or outside the hotel) and this plus the tight shots of the actors and the hotel rooms gives the movie a claustrophobic feel. You certainly want to get the hell away from the place (sometimes away from the movie itself) but you can't and neither can (or will) the unfortunate characters. Rifkin actually filmed the movie in a real skid row crack hotel which gives it a brownish aged dirty realism that Hollywood set directors can't ever seem to re-create. While one can't say this movie is enjoyable it definitely leaves a mark on the psyche that makes it far more memorable than the typical expendable big studio flick.