Michelle Williams must have really tough skin.
When it was announced that the Academy Award-nominated ex-"Dawson's Creek" alum would star as Marilyn Monroe in the period romp "My Week With Marilyn," fans of the screen legend were no doubt worried. Sure, Williams has proven to be one of our generation's most gifted actresses, known for her soul-baring work in passion projects like "Blue Valentine" and "Meek's Cutoff." But versatile? Not so much.
No matter how raw or committed in her delivery, Williams hadn't yet displayed great range like, say Meryl Streep in everything, or Charlize Theron in "Monster." She's always been a dependably predictable screen presence, albeit a fascinating one.
In "Marilyn," Williams takes the first true risk of her career. This is a make it-or-break-it kind of high-wire act. As Monroe, she takes the challenge and runs with it, and ends up doing what the greats do: She becomes a chameleon.
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The film, which comes out this Friday from the Weinstein Company, isn't necessarily her tale. "Marilyn" centers on Colin Clark (a winning Eddie Redmayne), a young and madly ambitious film buff who manages to land a job on the British set of Sir Laurence Olivier's "The Prince and the Showgirl," set to star Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Monroe. Monroe, freshly married to playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), causes a frenzy once on location, but for all the wrong reasons. With Olivier at the helm, the actress struggles to have her voice heard, and falls into a bout of despair because of it. To Clark's astonishment (and Olivier's dismay), Monroe takes a liking to him, and takes him under her wing to get away from all the drama on set.
If you're hoping to get a definite handle on what made Monroe tick, you won't get it from this frothy confection. The film is light on its feet, and only deals with a slice in the life of the icon. She remains, for the most part, as elusive as ever in Simon Curtis's entertaining drama.
It's that alluring sense of mystery that's kept Monroe a fascinating figure since her untimely death. That's what Williams nails so beautifully in the part. Williams looks more glammed up and gorgeous than ever as Monroe, but there's a sad, lost, and extremely cunning girl in there, one who's longing to break out from under the surface beauty.
That's not to say that Williams as Monroe doesn't exude that brash sexual confidence that made Monroe the star that she was. She does, when Monroe is on and in front of the all adoring lens. It's thrilling to watch Williams, an actress who up until now has cultivated a soft-spoken public persona, let loose and own the camera so pleasurably as Monroe did. Who knew she had that in her her?
In short, watching Williams in "Marilyn" is akin to watching Monroe in any one of her classics: You can't tear your eyes away from her. She's that good.