December 5, 2011

My Two Hours With Michelle

                  (My Week With Marilyn - ©2011 Weinstein Company)

When did Michelle Williams quietly become one of the best actors of her generation? Thankfully, she didn’t meet Tom Cruise, become a part-time actress, and acquire a zombie-like quality. Such a fate befell another alumnus of Dawson’s Creek.

Williams’ devastating performance in Blue Valentine last year should have earned her a Best Actress Oscar. Instead, that nod went to Natalie Portman for her campy – but commercially more viable – turn in Black Swan. This year, Williams returns with another tour-de-force performance in My Week With Marilyn. A making-of-a-movie within a movie, it is the story of a studio gopher who has a week-long fling with the chaotic Marilyn Monroe on the set of the 1956 film The Prince and the Showgirl, co-starring Sir Lawrence Olivier. The part of Sir Larry is played masterfully (and at times hysterically) in over-the-top diva fashion by Kenneth Branaugh.

If you’re looking for a Marilyn Monroe bio-pic played by a doppelganger, look elsewhere. This film is more a character study of an iconic hot mess who just so happens to be Marilyn Monroe. Williams’ brilliance hinges neither on an impersonator’s resemblance to Marilyn nor a slavish adherence to mannerisms – both of which she pretty much nails. Instead, what makes Williams’ performance remarkable is her unflinching portrayal of an outwardly famous, gorgeous, and irresistibly charismatic individual who inwardly is a severely damaged person with a horribly sad past, desolately lonely present, and an uncertain future. Williams captures Marilyn’s Borderline Personality Disorder, depression, drug addiction, desperate manipulations, and crippling insecurities all with such realism and sensitivity that – just like her performance in Blue Valentine – the line between theater and documentary is almost blurred. At a certain point, the fact that you’re supposed to be watching Iconic Sex Symbol Marilyn Monroe becomes irrelevant – you’re watching the story of a human being. Perhaps that’s Williams’ ultimate tribute to Marilyn Monroe, and the key to yet another Oscar-worthy performance.    

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