My Week with Marilyn
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY
I didn't expect My Week with Marilyn to be spectacular, and it wasn't - far too much editing that takes you away from Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh, who are both superb and make the whole thing watchable, especially Williams, whom I completely believed was Marilyn Monroe. I found the conflict between Monroe and Laurence Olivier, on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, to be particularly interesting because it represented, in its way, a clash of ideals.
When I wrote about Olivier's Hamlet, I remarked how his acting style was of another era, one much more stage-like and formal in comparison to that of the Brando Method generation, and indeed, the movie placed this dichotomy front and center. According to the movie, Monroe came to the set of Prince with an acting coach - Paula Strasberg, wife of Method master Lee Strasberg - and Monroe kept her within arms length at all times because she was so intimidated at working with a legend like Olivier, who also directed Prince. For his part, Olivier is depicted as being scornful of the Method; he briefly mentions how he disapproved of his wife Vivien Leigh working with Elia Kazan.
In Week, Paula Strasberg is constantly propping up Monroe's self-confidence, telling her again and again how great an actress she is, and I thought she was just soothing her ego. It turns out that the Strasbergs thought very highly of her acting ability, and Lee Strasberg apparently once said he believed her second only to Brando himself out of all the actors he worked with. At one point in Week, Monroe is so frustrated with Olivier's constant berating of her that she cries, "I want Lee! I want Lee!"
This is an aspect of Monroe's legend that people don't think of as much, and again, Week pays lip service to it when Olivier, frustrated, says to her at one point something along the lines of how she should just wiggle and pout and look sexy, since that's what she does best. (I think that's the point where she cries for Lee.) Developing her acting ability meant a great deal to her, and perhaps that's the true tragedy of her premature death: how much farther could she have gone? She was beginning to creep towards middle age at the time of making Prince; eventually her looks would begin to fade, a point Leigh makes in one scene in Week in talking about her own career. I suspect Monroe knew this in the back of her mind and worked on her acting to prepare for the day when her reign as a sex goddess would end.