Total Recall: Michelle Williams' Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Oz the Great and Powerful star.
From a prime-time soap sweetheart on Dawson's Creek to a film star with three Academy Award nominations (and counting) under her belt, Michelle Williams has come a long way over the course of her 20-year career -- and this weekend, she steps into one of Hollywood's most hallowed bubbles, playing Glinda the Good Witch in Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful. We decided now would be the perfect time to take an appreciative look back at some of her proudest critical moments, and you know what that means: It's time to Total Recall, Michelle Williams style!
After accumulating loads of Hollywood cachet by penning the screenplays for such critical darlings as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman decided what he really wanted to do was direct -- and his debut, 2008's Synecdoche, New York, turned out to be every bit as original (and/or willfully obtuse) as his fans could have hoped. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as a miserable theater director who receives a MacArthur grant and promptly spirals into madness (and Williams as one of his decades-in-development play's leading ladies), Synecdoche confounded a fair number of critics who thought Kaufman had finally lost the line between profundity and pomposity -- but for scribes like Christopher Orr of the New Republic, it was "a huge film about puny sentiments, an anti-heroic epic of failure, remorse, alienation, and self-pity. It may not be the best film of the year, but it is very likely to be the most extraordinary."
With a pair of bikini-topped girls on the poster, the involvement of someone named Deep Throat, and a title like Dick, you might expect something other than a cheerful political parody from director Andrew Fleming's 1999 release. But all winking aside, Dick is actually a fairly clever re-imagining of the Watergate scandal, with a pair of teenage girls (played by Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst) who stumble into jobs as White House dog walkers after unwittingly ruining the break-in -- and subsequently wind up altering the course of the entire administration. Mused Sue Pierman of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "The film is such a delight not only because it's clever, but because it so perfectly captures the era."
Given that she'd already portrayed a marriage in decline in Blue Valentine, it might have seemed like backtracking for Michelle Williams to play another soon-to-be-former spouse in 2012's Take This Waltz, but Sarah Polley's bittersweet drama brought a few twists to the table -- including casting Seth Rogen as Williams' cuckolded husband. Featuring solid supporting turns from Luke Kirby and Sarah Silverman, Waltz proved that in the right hands, a familiar tale can still ring true -- even when it's populated with characters the audience may not always like -- as long as it's willing to tell the truth. As Bill Goodykoontz put it in his review for the Arizona Republic, "If uncompromising honesty is the quality you seek for a film, Michelle Williams is your go-to star."
Attempting to portray a screen legend like Marilyn Monroe seems like the kind of thankless task for which a director would need to find an inexperienced actress who didn't know any better -- but fortunately for Simon Curtis, whose My Week with Marilyn adapts a pair of Colin Clark memoirs inspired by his time on the set of Monroe's The Prince and the Showgirl, Michelle Williams was ready and willing to take the job. And while the events that unfold in the movie amount to little more than a footnote in Monroe's story, her empathetic work in the role helped lift My Week above rote biopic material; as Stephen Whitty put it for the Newark Star-Ledger, "No other actress has quite understood the frustrated, maternal side of Monroe that informed so many of her performances. Or quite recaptured that absolutely luminous quality she had on film."
Williams has a reputation for picking films that tend toward the depressing end of the dramatic spectrum, and projects like 2008's Wendy and Lucy are a good example of why. Here, Williams plays a woman who tires of her lonely life in small-town Indiana and decides to set out for a new life in Alaska -- but she only gets as far as Oregon before falling victim to a bleak comedy of errors that starts with her car breaking down and doesn't let up until she's been arrested and lost her dog. While it might be short on chuckles, director/co-writer Kelly Reichardt's study of a life gone wrong proved powerfully resonant for critics like the New York Observer's Andrew Sarris, who wrote, "To her credit, Ms. Reichardt never allows her camera to become a voyeuristic witness to a young woman in distress. Instead, it remains focused on a largely indifferent American landscape of strangers in perpetual motion to nowhere."