Is Marilyn Monroe finally headed toward that Oscar nomination which eluded her during the actress’ all-too-short film career? In an odd twist of fate, yes. With the world premiere Sunday night of The Weinstein Company’s My Week With Marilyn at the New York Film Festival, another presumed awards contender is out of the gate. And if I were Meryl, Glenn, Charlize, Viola, or any other lead actress Oscar hopeful, I would be nervous: Michelle Williams as Marilyn is that good. Sexy, vulnerable, fragile, alluring, seductive, delectable, complex, and all things in between, she nails it and certainly has claimed a spot among the top five if not frontrunner status for the Oscar itself. She also flawlessly sings a couple of Monroe standards as bookends for the film. Marilyn herself never managed to get any kind of Oscar recognition. Now, oddly, Monroe and her unique appeal could figure strongly in the 2011 Best Actress race as channeled through Michelle Williams.
I saw the film Sunday night at a small last-minute screening in Beverly Hills timed to coincide with its New York premiere. (Sony Classics did the same thing for Carnage when it opened NYFF over a week ago, just as Fox Searchlight did when The Tree Of Life premiered in Cannes.) It makes us die-hard West Coasters feel included in the hoopla, I guess. At the very least it’s smart Oscar strategy: an Academy acting branch member I talked to afterwards was totally under Williams’ spell.
The movie due for release November 4th is directed by British tv producer/director Simon Curtis. It is, along with Midnight In Paris, The Artist and The Descendants, one of the most purely entertaining films I’ve seen so far this year. I would imagine it will have great appeal for the same voters who supported Weinstein’s Best Picture winner The King’s Speech last year. But realistically its best shot is in performance and some below-the-line categories like Costume Design and Art Direction. I have to confess that, after seeing some selected footage that was shown at the Weinstein party in Cannes last May, I had my doubts about Williams as Monroe. But those concerns were completely erased in the context of the entire film where she gets to show three distinctly different sides of the star without ever drifting into impersonation. Williams had doubts, too, when she was making the film last year in England. When I did a phone interview with her between takes and talked about her nominated turn in Blue Valentine, I asked about playing Marilyn. But she fumbled through an answer and could not articulate what it meant then, much like the real Monroe when she was making the real film-within-the-film.
Besides Williams, the film contains another surefire acting nominee in Kenneth Branagh’s biting and all-knowing interpretation of Laurence Olivier. Having acted and directed in Hamlet and Henry V just like Olivier, Branagh gets right to the heart of the man who thought his movie star credentials would be boosted appearing opposite Monroe in the troubled production of the 1957 comedy The Prince And The Showgirl which the great actor also directed — only to be completely frustrated by the trying experience of working with the insecure American superstar. The entire ensemble cast — which includes a terrific Eddie Redmayne in the pivotal role of Clark, Dominic Cooper, Judi Dench, Zoe Wanamaker, Dougray Scott, Toby Jones and Julia Ormond — could also figure in SAG’s Cast award. The film also is a contender in the Golden Globes Musical or Comedy categories where Midnight In Paris still has to be considered the favorite.
Monroe herself was a Globe regular and in fact won Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical for 1959’s classic Some Like It Hot. She was also Globe nominated in the same category for 1956’s Bus Stop. But only her co-stars in both those films, Jack Lemmon in Hot and Don Murray in Bus Stop, each earned Academy nominations. This wasn’t about the Academy’s reluctance to nominate blondes or comediennes because Doris Day won her one and only Best Actress Oscar nom for Pillow Talk the same year Marilyn was eligible for Hot. Monroe was great in Bus Stop, too, but sadly the Academy didn’t catch up with her performance before her tragic death in 1962. Monroe did win some major recognition for The Prince And The Showgirl by grabbing Italy’s Oscar, the David di Donatello award, and a British Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Actress.