The 2012 Best Actress Oscar race begins with this miraculous performance by Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. We have yet to see Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady, or Glenn Close in male drag in Albert Nobbs, but even those esteemed actresses will be hard-pressed to equal the alchemy with which the always intelligent and gutsy Williams transforms herself into that most dreamy, luscious, needy, and yet valiant of all Hollywood screen goddesses. Directed with grace and economy by TV veteran Simon Curtis, from a smart, touching script by Adrian Hodges, the film is adapted from the memoir,
“The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me,” by Colin Clark, which documents the moment in 1957 when Hollywood movie star Monroe and acclaimed British stage thespian Sir Laurence Olivier made a movie together, the fluffy romance, The Prince and the Showgirl. In the film, young Colin (the excellent Eddie Redmayne), armed with an impressive lineage (his father is art historian Sir Kenneth Clark) and a yen to work in the movies, finagles a job as gofer on Olivier’s new film. Soon, he’s looking out for Marilyn (Williams), who arrives with her intellectual new husband, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), in a relationship already beginning to fray, acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), obsessed with molding her into “greatness,” and a desperation to be taken seriously as an actress. The aging Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) hopes teaming up with Marilyn will “renew” him and his own fading screen image, but as the film’s director, he becomes infuriated with her unprofessional work habits. It’s up to Colin to become her “chum,” her ally on the set, while falling under her hypnotic spell. At the center of these psychic storms, Williams’ Marilyn is fragile, irresistible, terrified, and often humorously, startlingly self-aware. (“Shall I be her?” she asks Colin with a wink and a giggle, before posing for a group of awestruck fans.) Her sense of betrayal when Olivier finally blurts he just wants her to “be sexy,” is agonizing. Williams’ fine supporting cast includes scene-stealing Judi Dench as actress Dame Sybil Thorndike, who reaches out to Marilyn with kindness and patience, lectures a stagehand on the business of craft unions, and calmly knocks the stuffing out of Olivier for his “bullying.” This is a lovely film about fame and consequences with a star performance that leaves one breathless.—LJ.
MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
(R) 107 minutes. (★★★★)—LJ.