There is but a single reason to see this film, a fact, and that is to behold the astonishing performance of Michelle Williams as icon Marilyn Monroe. Williams goes beyond a mere transformation into Monroe, she seems to be channeling the spirit of the star into her very soul so that often we are not seeing a portrayal but a flesh and blood Marilyn before us, as though she were with us once again in all her sensual glory. What makes the performance as great as it is, and words do not do it justice, is that Williams seems to understand what others have failed to appreciate in portraying Monroe, that the greatest role she ever played was of Marilyn Monroe!! Sadly, only later in her career did she realize she had painted herself into a corner playing that role, because Hollywood would never give her a chance to go beyond that character. Williams knows when to turn on the star power as Monroe, and when she does we realize at once why she is the greatest actress of her generation, perhaps the next generation’s Streep. To portray star wattage is something entirely different than giving a performance because she must take the performance to another level altogether, one that is not quite real in the sense that the rest of her performance is. Understand that she is playing a woman who came to life before the cameras, who under lights and the intense scrutiny suddenly lit up and became something otherworldly, and Williams manages to bring that to her remarkable performance. Physically she is not Monroe’s equal, but manages to move like Monroe, so that all eyes are on her, speak like her, and those eyes, those magnificent eyes that pull you into her world, or at least the world she wanted you to see, are spectacular.
The film is based on the memoirs (two of them) of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a young man from money who horrifies his family by wanting to get into the movie business. With the right connections, Colin is hired by Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) to work as an assistant on his new film The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), where his main job will be to make sure the co-star, arriving in London to make the film, Marilyn Monroe is on time each day and behaving herself. With a reputation that precedes her, Olivier is worried upon casting Monroe and more than a little attracted to the star, which his wife Vivien Leigh (Julie Ormond) does not like one bit. That said Leigh also recognizes that Olivier is not the sort of man Monroe is attracted too, so never really considers her a threat to her in any way. With her new husband, the great playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) away in Paris for a while, Monroe invites Colin to spend a week with her before shooting starts allowing her to soak in the country. She likes him, or seems too, and they become fast friends despite the warnings of those around him who believe they know more about Monroe that he possibly could. Even his girlfriend, portrayed by a haggard looking Emma Watson, post Harry Potter, is worried he is going down a path of terrible hurt. How could he resist? It is of course Marilyn Monroe, the woman every man wanted.
Whether anything happened during that week is anybody’s guess, skinny dipping likely, but whether or not they had sex is a mystery. Monroe had many men, ones that used and abused her, and was attracted to alpha males, which Colin is certainly not. More than likely what he offered her was someone to talk to talk too, someone who idolized her unconditionally, someone who wanted nothing from her and would listen If anything did happen, it was because Monroe wanted it to happen and realized what giving herself to someone like this young boy meant to him. No one would believe it, so why not, and its always going to mean more to him.
The plot is as deep as the paper it is written on. Oh hell, let’s be honest – there is barely a plot in fact. This film is all about a performance, and though there are other actors involved, we are watching a single piece of acting throughout the picture. No one else matters.
Williams is superb as Monroe, perfect. It is as though she somehow captured Monroe`s ghost and ingested it into her, allowing what we perceive to be the real Marilyn manifest itself on the screen. This is a major accomplishment for this already acclaimed actress, and she seems capable of virtually anything. I have not encountered this sort of astounding talent since seeing Streep back in the late seventies and knowing she was the actress of the future. The way she moves, the way she looks at people, the manner in which she allows her vulnerability to be seen (only when she needs it) and the way she has in attracting men, speaking to them as though they were the only man on the planet. One understands that Monroe was a sexy woman, but Williams goes beyond that, capturing what Monroe had as a person when she walked into the room…the object of every mans desire. Without trying to be so, she was carnal, and absolutely lovely. Monroe knew the effect she had on men, just as Williams understands it, but this was a troubled woman who spent most of her life searching for a father figure, someone who would take care of her and love her. Though Miller tried, it was never enough for her. That Williams captures every aspect of Monroe, including that elusive allure is pure movie magic, and one of the very best performances of the year. Having left her television roots long behind she continues to grow as a major dramatic talent, Oscar nominated for Brokeback Mountain (2005) and last year in Blue Valentine (2010) she possesses that innate ability to slip under the skin of her character and become that person, inhabit the role, find the soul. I think she is an extraordinary talent.
As Olivier, Kenneth Branagh manages to convey the smug arrogance of a man who could not quite believe a woman, an actress, or star rather, he considered beneath him could resist his charms!! Olivier despised the method, to which Monroe was devoted, and hated the fact she had an acting coach along with her in England. He believed that acting was a job to be practiced once you were hired to do something and did not believe in this silly method nonsense. For me Branagh portrays the attitude of Olivier without ever managing to capture the man himself. All ego, full of himself, it is a paper thin performance, that despite my feelings about Olivier does not do him justice.
Poor Eddie Redmayne does not have much to do but fawn over Monroe, which he does well enough, but never gets the chance to give a performance. That’s a shame because he can act. There is so little chemistry between he and Williams we can barely believe she would want to be in the same room with him let alone the same bed. And why are there so many shots of Redmayne staring fondly at his idol, his eyes glistening, like a new puppy? Had Williams not been in the film, I would have wanted to tear my eyes out.
This is Williams’ movie, from start to finish and she is a wonder to behold. A miraculous performance.