Movie Reviews: My Week with Marilyn
Vanity Fair, 23 November 2011
What happens when a 24-year-old Oxford grad gets a lonely gofer job on 'The Prince and the Showgirl', a film starring Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier, and ends up spending a terrifying and romantic week with the lady?
That's the weighty-but-fluffy query director Simon Curtis explores in 'My Week with Marilyn', adapted from two autobiographical books by British filmmaker Colin Clark. We all know how difficult Ms. Monroe could be. She was sexy, wildly narcotic, scared down to her undies — and yet impossible to turn down. Michelle Williams gives a brilliant performance as Monroe. She becomes Marilyn so deeply that at times I thought I was watching a documentary. It's one of the great performances in my 50 years of movie-going. In a way she plays three different women: the real Marilyn, the actress Marilyn who's co-starring in 'The Prince and the Showgirl' with the awesome Olivier, and then the Marilyn who causes a gofer to fall in love with her.
Kenneth Branagh as Olivier is spot on. He is dashing, desperate, and hilarious as he tries to get a performance out of Monroe. Not only is she terrified of Lord Olivier, she is protected by Paula Strasberg, wife of the king of the "method," Lee Strasberg. Zoey Wanamaker is perfect as this yenta from hell. And when she spouts a Yiddishism like "bubballa" in the midst of all this British chat, she is right on the mark. Marilyn, she claims, is simply "a method actress."
Eddie Redmayne is the tormented young man who's forced to spend time with Marilyn. This performance will make him a star. He has a delicate balance between anxiety and infatuation. There's a lot of humor in his predicament, as it seems he's the only one on the set whom Marilyn trusts. As the week goes on, the mood deepens, and Marilyn wants Redmayne around more and more. She insists on having his protection. They have a picnic, they skinny dip nude in the lake, they lie in the sack and hold hands, and finally they — wait and see for yourself.
I loved this film. I congratulate the director and the screenwriter, Curtis and Adrian Hodges. Oh, and the smashing Judy Dench as dame Sybil Thorndike, a brilliant ball-buster.
A personal memory of mine: In 1953, I studied method acting with Paul Mann, an actor who had been blacklisted. My classmates and I were infatuated with the dogma of the Stanislavsky Method. We worshipped at the altar. One night the class was thrilled to hear a guest speaker, Lee J. Cobb, who was then starring on Broadway in Arthur Miller's play 'Death of a Salesman'. We knew that Mr. Cobb used the method, but we wanted to know more.
"The method," said Cobb in a deep voice as he bit off the end of a new cigar. "The method? That's an easy one. You use the method only when you have a headache. It's like aspirin. It can help but if you're doing well without it, just keep acting."
I wonder if Lee J. Cobb ever told that to Paula Strasberg.