Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: My Week with Marilyn and Shame, two Oscar-buzzy dramas in which two very sexy tragic heroes battle serious inner demons.
My Week with Marilyn follows the diary account of one Colin Clark, who—yes way!—spent a week with the Marilyn Monroe while she was filming The Prince and the Showgirl in London in 1956. Michelle Williams plays Marilyn, the loneliest woman in the world and the most famous; Eddie Redmayne (The Good Shepherd, Pillars of the Earth) plays the smitten, lowly assistant, Colin; and a number of Britain's acting best fill out the remaining roles. Shame likewise follows a troubled, sexy type, albeit a bit less famous one. Michael Fassbender plays a yuppie nymphomaniac with his own store of demons. Known when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival as the movie in which Michael Fassbender went full-frontal, Shame probably won't be skimping on the sex, sex-related drama, and revelations of a haunted past. Plus, Carey Mulligan sweetens the deal as Fassbender's caring, club singer sister. Shame takes the prize here. Though on paper, a Marilyn Monroe movie backed by Weinstein Company promises cinematic fun, the trailer comes off a little boring—Shame looks like it will be anything but.
In both movies, we're dealing with good-looking future A-listers. In one corner, sweet, talented Michelle Williams who takes on one of the biggest challenges an actress can face—playing a real person. Williams doubles down with an even more respectable risk of taking on the role of Marilyn Monroe, not so easy peasy.
Let us also give Williams major, major points for (knowingly?) reigniting the Dawson's Creek battle of bad girl Jen Lindley versus good girl Joey Potter by taking on the role of Marilyn. Remember when Katie Holmes played Jackie O in Reelz Channel's The Kennedys? Clearly, Williams' Marilyn has Katie Holmes's Jackie O beat in sexiness and, well, believability. However, Williams' performance does not measure up as well against Fassbender's—the actor makes a sexpot out of every character he plays, from Magneto to Carl Jung. So in Shame, it's no surprise the guy gets the sex factor down pat. Plus, there's believability in the actor's empty, drug addict-like skirt-chasing.
We really love Carey Mulligan playing the younger sister in Shame, but she is the film's the sole supporting acting wattage. Compare her to the list of storied, knighted and Burberry-bedecked actors in My Week with Marilyn, and there's really no competition. Kenneth Branagh plays another British acting great, Sir Laurence Olivier, the prince to Marilyn's showgirl; Dame Judi Dench plays Dame Sybil Thorndike, probably a walk in the park for an actress who won an Oscar for playing Queen of England. Then there's Dominic Cooper as real-life photographer Milton Greene, Dougray Scott as Monroe's third hubby, Arthur Miller; and two former faces of Burberry—Tony award winner Eddie Redmayne as the lucky Colin Clark, and Emma Watson, who plays a wardrobe assistant. Point made.
Advantage: My Week with Marilyn
Sex, Sex, Sex
Now for the question of the sex appeal. Not many stars, if any, can compete with Monroe's lasting sexual legacy. However, My Week with Marilyn, with its cool English coloring, looks like it will linger on the staid and sad aspects of the actress's life, not the glamorous, era-defining ones. And no matter how equally sad a character portrait Shame may paint of its lead, the über-talented Fassbender may be the hottest thing to show up on screen since Brad Pitt. Add that to the movie's NC-17 rating and the trailer's countless stream of girls, dates, and sex scenes, and you have a film that promises to be sexier of the two.
In terms of directors, both films have talented Brits at the helm of their first or second feature films. My Week with Marilyn director, Simon Curtis has dozens of TV directorial and producer credits for BBC. On projects such as David Copperfield and Old Times, he's directed such heavyweights as Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Ian McKellen, and John Malkovich. Clearly, the man has the experience to command a period piece set in London. On the other hand, there's Steve McQueen, not to be confused with the McQueen of Bullit fame. Shame is McQueen's second commercial movie. His first, another Fassbender collaboration, was Hunger, which got rave reviews. But we know McQueen knows his way around a camera—as a visual artist, he's been making black-and-white shorts for decades, and won the Turner Prize in 1999. All in all, this one is too tough to call. Both men deserve props—Curtis for taking on such a monumental and challenging project, McQueen for sticking to the raw and gritty.
Both Fassbender, with his Best Actor win at Venice Film Festival for Shame, and Academy Award nominee Carey Mulligan are big Oscar draws this awards season, but there's just a tad more Oscar bait coming from My Week with Marilyn. From Oscar nominee Michelle Williams, to Oscar winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love), Oscar-nominee and BAFTA winner Kenneth Branagh, and Tony Award winner Eddie Redmayne, the movie has plenty going for it. Let's also point out the fact that Weinstein Company co-produced the film, and considering the Weinstein's knack for winning Oscar campaigns (The King's Speech, The Reader, Shakespeare in Love) we're giving this one to My Week with Marilyn.
Advantage: My Week with Marilyn
In the end, My Week with Marilyn just doesn't pull off the grandiosity promised in its premise, even with the high level of acting talent and directorial skill. It's a tasteful and well-attempted go for gold, but something about the trailer just falls flat. Shame wins this one, not just because that Michael Fassbender is so hot right now, but because it promises some serious and complex fun as we teeter on the edge of a nymphomaniac's addiction. And however many millions of pop culture points we shoot Williams' way for a Dawson's Creek face-off, Shame will be the one we see at the movies.