The real, red-hot deal
OVERSEAS critics have been heaping praise on Michelle Williams for her performance as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, which opens here on Thursday. But Williams is certainly not the first actor to play Monroe, nor, I would think, the last. Catherine Hicks, Ashley Judd and Sophie Monk have all played her in made-for-tv movies, and Angelina Jolie, would you believe, is to star in a film about the last two years of Monroe’s life as seen through the eyes of her Maltese terrier (with George Clooney, improbably, as Frank Sinatra).
Nicole Kidman posed in a blonde wig for a Monroe photo for the 10th anniversary issue of Australian Harper’s Bazaar, under the caption Some Like It Hot. Billy Wilder, who directed Monroe in Some Like It Hot (Sunday, 10.35pm, Fox Classics), described her as ‘‘ an absolute genius as a comic actor’’ — and it’s true. She’s at least as funny as Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in their crossdressing roles, and her turn with a tiny ukulele is an inspired bit of clowning. It remains, I think, the funniest of all Hollywood sound films.
She can be seen in two other films this Sunday. In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (7.30pm, Fox Classics), a version of Anita Loos’s Broadway musical, she stars with Jane Russell (another Hollywood sex-symbol of her day) in a witty sendup of glamour-puss stereotypes, and in How to Marry a Millionaire (Sunday, 9pm, Fox Classics) she’s one of a trio of man-hunters (including Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall) practising their wiles on eligible bachelors. All very dated, corny and incorrect, of course — and funny even now.
Perhaps her acting was always underestimated. Her first appearance — a bit part as George Sanders’ girlfriend in All About Eve — is among the joys of that marvellous film. Sybil Thorndike said of her performance in The Prince and the Showgirl, in which she starred with Laurence Olivier, that ‘‘ she’s the only one of us who really knows how to act in front of a camera’’.
Olivier, who by all accounts patronised Monroe shamelessly, can be seen in The Entertainer (Sunday, 4pm, Stvdio) as a third-rate vaudevillian, delivering creaking song-and-dance routines in half-empty En- glish music halls — a bleak study of cynicism and despair that sorely needed Monroe to relieve the gloom. And how right she would have been as Roxie Hart in Chicago (Saturday, 5pm, Movie Greats) if only Rob Marshall had made it 40 years earlier: a perfect vehicle for her brassy energy and wit. I can even imagine the young Marilyn in the June Allyson role in Little Women (Wednesday, 11pm, Fox Classics), one of that fatherless family of girls growing to maturity during the American Civil War.
It would be absurd to say Kidman is today’s Monroe. Monroe had a natural comic flair that Kidman lacks — and all things considered, Kidman is the better actor. In Rabbit Hole (Sunday, 8.30pm, Movie One) she gives what may be her greatest performance as Becca Corbett, a bereaved mother whose marriage to Howie (Aaron Eckhart) has been unravelling since the accidental death of their small son. Like all the best films about grief, it is never wholly dispiriting: its power, its fascination, lie in the unsparing revelation of the characters’ lives, the arc of reconciliation and recovery.
Becca has a surprise encounter with a young man (Miles Teller) that may alter both their lives, and some may find the ending simplistic and unconvincing. But Kidman resists the temptation to overplay its sentimental possibilities. We are shown how the smallest things, the merest thought, can transform a mood, even the most settled and habitual attitude, and illuminate a fresh path in life. James John Mitchell directed this brilliant film — one of the finest American dramas of recent years.
Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole