I get all over My Week with Marilyn's case, saying it's a lazy exercize in mythologizing the mythical and calling it "genuinely threatening to a healthy culture of art-making" in a review you can read in full here. I don't mention the egregious union-bashing scene (that is also dishonest, as it tries to say it's for unions, but not the bad bits) that would have negated any of the good qualities of My Week with Marilyn, had there been any.
I did not offer up a take on Michelle Williams' performance, because it's irrelevant. In a movie that wants to do nothing but emphasize what we already figured we knew about an icon of questionable importance, the best Williams can do is imitate our pre-existing ideas about the role she's playing. Had she wanted to do anything adventurous, it would have been squashed by the team behind this movie, I'm sure. Also, I think it's healthy for writers to ignore performances in movies that are made exclusively to show off a conventional style of acting and hold them accountable for the rest of thing things at play.
Writing about this movie brought up something I think about a lot while reviewing small movies. When I think a movie is especially lazy or meaningless, and I'm writing about it for the Independent, I think it's important not to get worked up about it unless it's a movie that's getting a lot of misguided attention, or that will have some kind of impact on the culture. I'm reviewing movies in a small market and these so-called art house films play at theaters that are constantly struggling to keep the lights on. Providing a thoughtful take (rather than an incensed rant) about a movie I don't care for is better for everyone involved.
So it's always with hesitation that I give such a forcefully negative review to a small, unimportant movie playing at small theaters in a small market. I've often written first drafts that I've rethought and rewritten after realizing that I'm not really serving my function as a minor movie critic with such negative reviews of small pictures. My job is to get people thinking and talking about movies, and hopefully to get them excited about continuing to go to the movies. Bashing modest movies does none of those things.
I've glanced at some reviews of Marilyn since writing about it, and I'm very surprised at what positive reception it's receiving. David Denby called My Week with Marilyn "intentionally minor," which may have been his way of apologizing for also calling it "expertly made." There's nothing wrong with being minor on purpose: it's a great path to subversion. If Altman had announced ahead of time that he had such wacky intentions for how to shoot M*A*S*H, that movie wouldn't exist. But Marilyn is the opposite: it's an intentionally minor movie that takes no advantages of its potential to go rogue off the radar. It plays by all the rules even though it probably doesn't even have to. That's the worst kind of towing the line.
Marilyn deserves bad-mouthing because its shimmery brand of meaninglessness is menacing. It's dishonest, masquerading as shimmery fun when in fact it exists in order to make us feel better about our lazy presumptions. It's a stupid movie that wants us to be stupid. I guess most crappy narratives do this, but when offhand acceptance of convention meets with iconic subject matter it becomes more dangerous. It has more potential to get into the drinking water.