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My Week with Marilyn Blu-ray + DVD Review

My Week with Marilyn (2011) movie poster My Week with Marilyn

Theatrical Release: November 23, 2011 / Running Time: 99 Minutes / Rating: R / Song List

Director: Simon Curtis / Writers: Colin Clark (diaries); Adrian Hodges (screenplay)

Cast: Michelle Williams (Marilyn Monroe), Kenneth Branagh (Sir Laurence Olivier), Eddie Redmayne (Colin Clark), Dominic Cooper (Milton Greene), Philip Jackson (Roger Smith), Derek Jacobi (Sir Owen Morshead), Toby Jones (Arthur Jacobs), Michael Kitchen (Hugh Perceval), Julia Ormond (Vivien Leigh), Simon Russell Beale (Cotes-Preedy), Dougray Scott (Arthur Miller), Zoλ Wanamaker (Paula Strasberg), Emma Watson (Lucy), Judi Dench (Dame Sybil Thorndike), Jim Carter (Barry), Richard Clifford (Richard Wattis), Robert Portal (David Orton), Peter Wight (Lucy's Father), Geraldine Somerville (Lady Jane Clark)

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Despite being in trusted and respected hands, two of last year's most-anticipated biopics, J. Edgar and The Iron Lady, fell short of their high critical expectations. The most obvious lesson to take from that was that a life, no matter how significant, was no substitute for a story.
This is something that the much more satisfying My Week with Marilyn knew. Rather than try to document Marilyn Monroe's thirty-six years on this planet, the film focuses on a single telling experience as written about in two books by Colin Clark.

Colin (Eddie Redmayne) is a 23-year-old man desperate to break into the film industry. He is willing to wait and wait for an employment opportunity from the production company of the great Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). It comes on the 1956 production of The Prince and the Showgirl (working title: The Sleeping Prince), a costume comedy casting Monroe (Michelle Williams) across from director/producer Olivier. The film is a change of pace for Olivier, his first time directing someone other than Shakespeare and in a genre other than classical drama. But neither of these facts would pose the challenges of his sexpot American leading lady.

"My Week with Marilyn" pairs 30-year-old international star Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) with a young British third assistant director (Eddie Redmayne).

Monroe, arguably the most beloved beauty of her time, is, to put it kindly, an unreliable actress. She forgets and fumbles her lines regularly and is almost never on time, delaying the shoot to the director's growing frustration. Monroe's costly behavior leads Olivier to reassign Clark, both his personal assistant and his third assistant director, to something of a personal babysitter for the ditzy bombshell, charging the young man with keeping her on schedule and on task.

Monroe is fawned over and coddled by her protective entourage, which includes her method acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoλ Wanamaker), her production partner/handler (Dominic Cooper), and a shrewd publicist (Toby Jones). Even aging screen legend Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench) is graciously respectful and patient with her co-star. But prissy Olivier can only stand so much and the discord that arises from the shoot has Marilyn turning to the wide-eyed Colin as a friend, confidant, and potentially more.

The thirty-year-old Monroe is just weeks into her marriage to famed playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), so her evidently flirtatious attraction to the gangly gofer seems somewhat implausible. There is a clandestine getaway to Windsor Castle followed by a spontaneous skinny dip. Colin is on hand to witness some middle of the night tension with Miller, who soon returns home to New York. And he is the one Marilyn asks for when she locks herself in her room in a daze of pills and booze. The film definitely has the feel of storybook fantasy in this regard and one wonders if the guileless and impressionable Clark, who passed away in 2002, wasn't embellishing or overstating his experiences. From a bit of research, it appears that Clark's first diary on the experience paints him as anything but innocent or floored by Monroe, while the second memoir, filling in the blanks forty years later, was rather far-fetched.

The film opens with a performance of Marilyn Monroe's (Michelle Williams) "Heat Wave" number from "There's No Business Like Show Business." Protagonist Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is fresh out of college and completely wet behind the ears.

In other regards, the film feels utterly true to the reports that have come out over the years, of Monroe's difficult nature and Olivier's temper. There are many modern examples of rich, hot messes catered to by behind-the-scenes people generously compensated to look after them, often ending with premature death and glamorized legacies. My Week takes us inside the production of a seemingly silly, obscure film, something that simply was not done at the time. Even now, the DVD age of making-of featurette ubiquity rarely shows us creative differences. That is fascinating, even without perspective on the dramatized personalities, although a little foreknowledge goes a long way here.

The individuals portrayed by three above-the-title cast members (Williams, Branagh, and Redmayne) form an interesting triangle of contrast, divided by age, experience, and ambition. As Colin so eloquently and accurately puts it, Olivier is a great actor wanting to be a film star, Monroe is a film star wanting to be a great actress, and their joint film is of little use to either end.

Director Simon Curtis and screenwriter Adrian Hodges have done the brunt of their work for BBC and this might feel like a television movie if not for the first-rate performances and lush production design. Williams is such a perfect fit for Marilyn down to the right age that it now seems crazy that other actresses (among them, Scarlett Johansson, Kate Hudson, and Amy Adams) were ever considered for the part.

Though his acting talents are among the most ever revered, Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) leaves something to be desired in the directorial patience department. In her first live-action theatrical film role after Hermione Granger, Emma Watson plays the relatively insignificant part of wardrobe girl Lucy.

Williams has deftly graduated from her breakout WB teen drama to serious cinema. This performance earned her an impressive third Oscar nomination in seven years. She embodies Monroe to such a degree that when the end credits briefly display reverent pictures, you have difficulty deciding if it is the real Marilyn or her (surprisingly, it is just Williams).
While Williams' youth must have been a factor in the Academy's decision to award the oft-nominated Meryl Streep a third time, I am of the belief that Williams' performance and movie have more to them than Streep's fine Margaret Thatcher impersonation. At least this won Williams a Golden Globe, albeit with the film puzzlingly classified as a comedy or musical. I do hope that she continues to get relevant work, because the rule that Streep astonishingly defies is that an actress' stardom is usually short-lived.

The rest of the cast also does nice work. Redmayne is a strong center and, even though he just turned 30, you never doubt him as a naοf of 23. An aptly-cast Branagh's Oscar-nominated Olivier has an air of caricature and camp, but it is an endearing portrayal all the same. This being a 21st century British production, it cannot help but feature some Harry Potter cast members. In addition to the aforementioned Wanamaker (one of the few Americans that snuck into that J.K. Rowling franchise), Jones, Branagh, and a briefly-seen Geraldine Sommerville (Lily Potter), Emma Watson appears, enjoying her first live-action theatrical role besides Hermione Granger. She does okay with limited screentime as a more attainable love interest, a cynical wardrobe girl. Looking more Juliette Binochey than ever, Julia Ormond plays Olivier's wife, the accomplished actress Vivien Leigh.

For a film with such broad appeal, My Week with Marilyn surprisingly didn't do so well at the box office when it tried expanding to a slightly less limited release around Christmas. Then again, most of this year's awards contenders struggled commercially, in contrast to the prior year's popular candidates. The movie's $14.4 million North American gross puts it at the high end of under 1,000-theater fare and above the year's very worst-performing wide releases.

The Weinstein Company and their home video partner for at least a little while longer, Anchor Bay Entertainment, bring Marilyn home next week in a single-disc and the two-disc Blu-ray + DVD combo pack we review here.

My Week with Marilyn: Blu-ray + DVD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.35:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Featurette Subtitled in English
Release Date: March 6, 2012
Two single-sided discs (BD-25 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($29.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though the tone and subject matter might have lent to television, the presentation screams feature film all the way. The 2.35:1 widescreen picture is stunning, boasting vibrant colors, good detail and sharpness, and an immaculately clean element. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is also satisfactory, although volume levels, deliberately or not, are a bit jarring in their inconsistency. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are provided.

Identical to the one sold on its own, the anamorphic DVD included in this combo pack is obviously less dazzling than its HD counterpart, but it should still please those who are content with standard definition. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack features the same peaks and valleys as the BD's lossless mix.

Kenneth Branagh dials down the makeup and turns up the stubble for his interview in "The Untold Story of an American Icon." Splish, splash, Marilyn Monroe takes a bath on the DVD's main menu montage.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Two bonus features are included on both DVD and Blu-ray. First is an audio commentary by director Simon Curtis. While the real Colin Clark is no longer with us, I can think of no good reason that Curtis couldn't have been joined by Michelle Williams or screenwriter Adrian Hodges.
Curtis' commentary (which sillily requires you accept the standard legal disclaimers to hear) is just okay, his lispy observations largely just elaborating on what's onscreen, touching more on the history dramatized than his own creative process. Of the latter, he mainly just identifies filming locations.

In typical Weinstein supplement fashion, the featurette "The Untold Story of an American Icon" (19:07, standard definition on BD) begins like a fluffy EPK piece but proves to have substance. It contains interviews with the director and all the leading cast members, devoting some time to each and, of course, to the real Marilyn Monroe, Larry Olivier, Arthur Miller, etc. It includes brief but welcome footage of the real people and even excerpts a couple of the cast's previous Weinstein films (Blue Valentine, Mrs. Henderson Presents), but sadly The Prince and the Showgirl goes unlicensed (even its trailer would have been fitting). While it doesn't shatter the standard making-of mold, it is a satisfying companion to the film and far more enriching than the commentary. The entertaining facial expressions of pianist Lang Lang alone make this worth watching.

Both the Blu-ray and DVD open with trailers for W.E., Coriolanus, The Iron Lady, and The Descendants, and a brief My Week with Marilyn soundtrack promo, none of which are menu-accessible. My Week's own trailer sadly is excluded.

The ordinary main menus set clips and stills to piano score. The Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks, nor does it resume playback, which is especially unfortunate, because you've got to endure unskippable logos and then advance through trailers one at a time to get going again. Furthering the common Fox-Weinstein cross-promotion, the only insert within the non-slipcovered Blu-ray case advertises the day-and-date home video debut of The Descendants.

In 1956, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) and her latest husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) arrive in London's Heathrow  to photographers and fanfare.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Driven by strong performances and vivid period detail, My Week with Marilyn offers a fun and engaging look at the real person behind one of the 20th century's most iconic personalities. You can question some of its factuality and long for a little more weight, but the intentions and execution are most admirable. The Blu-ray combo pack delivers a fine feature presentation, but fewer extras than you'd like. Still, on the strengths of the film, it is a pretty appealing package.

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Related Reviews:
New: To Catch a Thief • Hugo • Take Shelter • Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel • La Jetιe & Sans Soleil • Like Crazy • J. Edgar
Michelle Williams: Blue Valentine • The Station Agent • Prozac Nation • Home Improvement: The Complete Fourth Season
Eddie Redmayne: The Other Boleyn Girl • Elizabeth: The Golden Age | Emma Watson: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
2011 Oscar Nominees: The Help • The Tree of Life • Midnight in Paris • Moneyball
An Education • A Single Man • Driving Lessons | Laurence Olivier: Rebecca | Kenneth Branagh: Thor

My Week with Marilyn Songs List: Michelle Williams - "When Love Goes Wrong (Nothin' Goes Right)", Michelle Williams - "Heat Wave", La Tropicana Orchestra - "Uno Dos Tres", Dean Martin - "Memories Are Made of This", Johnny Ace - "Aces Wild", Johnny Ace - "Burley Cutie", Nat King Cole - "You Stepped Out of a Dream", "Hurdy Gurdy" from The Prince and the Showgirl, Michelle Williams - "I Found a Dream", Nat King Cole - "Autumn Leaves", Michelle Williams - "That Old Black Magic"

Buy My Week with Marilyn: Music from the Motion Picture from Amazon.com: CD • MP3 Download

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Reviewed March 10, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 The Weinstein Company, BBC Films, Trademark Films, Lipsync Productions,
and 2012 The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment and Anchor Bay Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.