This week’s cinematic selections both feature intense portrayals of psychologically troubled individuals, one of whom just happens to be Marilyn Monroe.
Michelle Williams, who would appear to be an unlikely choice to play the tragic 1950s starlet, disappears into the role completely in “My Week with Marilyn.”
But the film’s narrative revolves around Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a 23-year-old British lad whose dream it is to work behind the scenes in the movies.
He gets his chance when Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) decides to film “The Prince and the Showgirl” in England and names Colin as the third assistant director.
The film, set in 1956, is based on a book written by Clark that alleges he had a fleeting romance, of sorts, with Monroe during the filming of the picture.
The duo’s story is less of an ill-fated love story and more the tale of two kindred spirits.
Williams portrays Monroe as a woman trapped behind her public persona. She can act for the camera, but comes off as insecure when speaking her lines with lauded thespian Olivier, who doesn’t help matters by throwing fits on the set in response to his star’s tardiness.
Also thrown into the mix is Monroe’s fear of abandonment, which stems from her need to be taken seriously by her playwright husband, Arthur Miller, and fellow cast members.
The film escapes the clichés that tend to plague biopic movies, namely because Monroe and Olivier are players in the drama, rather than the focus.
Williams, who has building an impressive resume in recent years with solid performances in “Brokeback Mountain” and “Blue Valentine,” makes her bid for an Oscar with her portrayal of Monroe and nails it.
Branagh also delivers as Olivier, portraying the acting legend as a larger than life personality who can be equally arrogant and charming.
“My Week with Marilyn” is a solid film about making movies that rides high on its performances.
Michael Fassbender plays Brandon Sullivan, this week’s other troubled soul, in “Shame,” the controversial new film by England’s Steve McQueen.
Brandon, a sex addict, is a man trapped by his addiction. He has come to the point where he no longer seeks it out for pleasure, but rather undertakes it as a form of self-abuse.
A look of grief is painted across Fassbender’s face throughout much of “Shame” as Brandon meets up with regular partners and seeks out other means of satisfying his addiction.
In one particularly painful series of sequences, he goes out on a date with a woman he meets near his cubicle at work and the two appear to click. Several scenes later, his inability to be genuinely intimate abruptly brings the budding relationship to an end.
One day, Brandon’s sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), shows up at his door in search of a place to crash. She is a lounge singer whose need for emotional intimacy is juxtaposed with Brandon’s icy exterior.
In one of the film’s most haunting moments, Sissy performs “New York, New York” at a low-lit nightclub, but sings the rousing Liza Minnelli number as a depressive ballad as her brother listens with a pained expression.
Brandon wants his sister’s visit to be temporary. She is similarly in a bad place and needs to be cared for, which uncomfortably awakens feelings that her brother wants to keep buried. Things inevitably come to a head.
McQueen, an experimental artist, made his feature debut three years ago with the immensely powerful “Hunger,” a chronicle of the 1981 Irish hunger strike led by Bobby Sands, who was also played by Fassbender.
With “Shame,” he has taken on a more traditional narrative and character piece, but still manages to retain his opaque filming style.
This achingly sad film is not always easy to watch, but it is never less than compelling.