From the unlikely launching pad of teen soap Dawson's Creek, Michelle Williams has emerged as one of our most interesting actresses.
Dick, a 1999 Watergate-era comedy alongside Kirsten Dunst, was a hint, and her sad performance as future husband Heath Ledger's on-screen wife in 2005's Brokeback Mountain was another. But it's been over the past few years that Williams has really emerged: surviving Charlie Kaufman's daring Synecdoche, New York, making an indelible pixie drifter in Kelly Reichardt's recession indie Wendy and Lucy, haunting Leonardo DiCaprio's dreams in Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island.
She carried an over-acting Ryan Gosling with a devastating turn in the indie anti-romance Blue Valentine (which opened in Memphis early this year). She followed that up by reuniting with Reichardt for the lead in the compellingly minimal feminist Western Meek's Cutoff (which never opened in Memphis), going period as a determined, bonnet-clad settler on the hard road to the Oregon territory. And now comes a different kind of period performance — going glam as Marilyn Monroe circa 1956 in My Week With Marilyn. As all this indicates, there's no junk on Williams' docket.
These are three wildly different roles and Williams shines in all of them, but if My Week With Marilyn is her apparent Oscar bid, I was more impressed by the earlier films, where you could never catch her acting, rather than this latest film, which is all about watching Williams act.
It's hard to imagine any other contemporary actress handling Monroe better than Williams does — and, make no mistake, she's the reason to see this film. But her Monroe is still uneven, capturing the icon's twinkling allure, messy voluptuousness, and real-world disconnect only in fleeting moments.
My Week With Marilyn is based on a memoir by Colin Clark (here played by Eddie Redmayne), who served as an assistant on the London set of The Prince and the Showgirl, a barely remembered feature whose title references the odd-couple pairing of American movie star Monroe and British theater legend Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), the film's director and co-star. Clark, an upper-crust film fan slumming on his first real job, developed an unlikely friendship — and perhaps a little bit more — during the shoot. But you might find yourself — as I did — caring far less about this character's experience and perspective than this film wants you to.
For film buffs, My Week With Marilyn's concern with a clash of acting and production styles is interesting, with traditionalist Olivier and his British company facing Monroe's Method pretensions and entourage of enablers and handlers — among them, husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), production partner Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper), and acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker).
But My Week With Marilyn is more concerned with Monroe herself, incorporating biographical tidbits — her reliance on acting coaches, her trouble remembering lines, her reliance on drug and drink, and her penchant for dalliances — and replicating iconic moments outside the film's London-set scope via performance clips and a skinny-dipping escapade. My Week With Marilyn is about, as the great British critic David Thomson has written, "the contrast between [Monroe's] image of voluptuousness and the reality of near-breakdown," but it doesn't have anything particularly novel or insightful to say on this subject. This is well-trod territory, and director Simon Curtis and screenwriter Adrian Hodges give it the visual and intellectual depth of a decent TV movie.
Beyond this core trio, the film is packed with familiar faces in small roles. In addition to those in Monroe's entourage, there's Toby Jones as a shady publicist, Judi Dench as a veteran actress, Julia Ormond as Olivier's wife (aging star Vivien Leigh) and, most compellingly, Harry Potter co-star Emma Watson as costumer and Clark's regular love interest.
If there's a reason to see My Week With Marilyn beyond Williams, it's Watson, in her first post-Potter role. Is there life after Hermione Granger? Watson answers that question convincingly, playing adult and — despite the period — modern in way that departs decisively from her child/teen persona. You'll want to see her on the screen more.
My Week With Marilyn