From her days as a child actor and a breakout role in teen-centric series Dawson’s Creek to becoming the indie darling, Michelle Williams is an ever evolving talent. The four time Oscar-nominated actress has also carved out a career in stage. Her natural talent and versatile choice in roles most often allow Williams to command the screen. Here are, what we think, 10 of her finest performances:
10. The Station Agent (2003)
Director: Tom McCarthy
Tom McCarthy’s indie drama was best known for providing Game of Thrones fame Peter Dinklage’s first great role. He plays Fin, a misanthropic loner and a train-enthusiast. Fin’s dwarfism makes him lead a circumscribed life. He endures stares and taunts from virtually everyone on the street. After his only friend’s death, Fin decides to retreat from human contact and moves to an abandoned train depot in rural New Jersey. Michelle Williams plays a supporting role Emily, a cute, shy local librarian. While it’s a small part, Williams has one heartfelt scene with Dinklage. Prior to The Station Agent, Williams worked on six seasons of prime-time teen soap opera Dawson’s Creek. Hence she consciously chose to involve herself with smaller, independent works.
9. All the Money in the World (2017)
Director: Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott’s crime drama haunted the headlines after the public revelation of Kevin Spacey’s sexual misconduct. Prolific director Scott then chose to re-shoot Spacey’s scenes with Christopher Plummer. Plummer plays cantankerous oil magnate J. Paul Getty. The film chronicles the real-life kidnapping of Getty’s grandson John Paul Getty III and the subsequent drawn-out negotiations. Despite the difficult task of eleventh minute re-shoots, Scott delivered a sturdy thriller. Christopher Plummer is excellent, indeed, but Michelle Williams’ Gail Harris is truly the heart of the film. Gail’s attempts to save her son and her confrontations with megalomaniac ex father-in-law form the crux of the narrative. Her steely posture and maternal sensitivity transcend the story’s inherent stagnant notes.
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8. Certain Women (2016)
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Indie film-maker Kelly Reichardt is best known for delivering quietly observant studies of human foibles and relationships. Certain Women is yet another subtle work from Kelly, showcasing overlapping lives of four women, in a land pioneered and overshadowed by male populace. Michelle Williams plays Gina, a business woman, alienated wife and mother. She is determined to build her family a house, while constantly facing stoicism from her feckless husband and surly daughter. The film also marks the third collaboration between Williams and Reichardt. Lily Gladstone offers a stand-out performance. Nevertheless, Williams is marvelous at conveying her pent-up frustrations. Her presence evokes deeply melancholic feelings.
7. My Week with Marilyn (2011)
Director: Simon Curtis
Simon Curtis’ biographical drama has Michelle Williams playing the sensual and damaged Hollywood celebrity Marilyn Monroe. The narrative was loosely adapted from documentarian and writer Colin Clark’s memoir. The story follows a 23-year-old, feisty assistant director Clark (Eddie Redmayne). He falls for the iconic actress on the set of Laurence Olivier’s 1957 feature ‘The Prince and the Showgirl.’ The script doesn’t offer many startling insights. However, Williams harnesses the essence of Marilyn, portraying her as a fully sexualized being and insecure girl. As expected, Williams latches on to the sad inner-life of Marilyn that’s otherwise absent in her fancy poses. Director Curtis and writer Hodges mostly fail to bring psychological depth to the proceedings. The sole enjoyment lies in watching Williams tackling the role of a pop-culture legend. She won a Golden Globe for the performance.
6. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Director: Ang Lee
Ang Lee’s examination of stifled passion happened to be the most successful same-sex story ever produced by Hollywood. It earned more than $178 million worldwide and reaped three Oscars. Set in 1963, the film chronicles the hidden love affair between taciturn cowboys Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist. Michelle Williams plays beleaguered wife Alma, alongside her late ex-partner Heath Ledger. Williams’ Alma witnesses the romantic affection between her husband Ennis (Ledger) and his friend Jack (Gyllenhaal). Her fine, intuitive performance demonstrates how Alma’s spiritedness slowly dries up in the face of her husband’s betrayal. The role brought Michelle Williams her first Academy Award nomination.
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5. Take this Waltz (2011)
Director: Sarah Polley
In Sarah Polley’s intriguing portrait of marriage, Michelle Williams plays Margot, a freelance writer happily married to her cookbook author husband. The wistful Margot, however, feels something is missing in her domestic life. She no longer possesses the feelings of intimacy for her husband. Things change when Margot meets Daniel, a handsome guy who happens to live across the street. But the film is not about infidelity. The script that’s strongly rooted in reality allows Polley to smartly weave Margot’s personal struggle. Take this Waltz was worth seeing for Williams’ fearless and nuanced performance. Williams is virtually incapable of providing a false moment since she grounds every little expression in an organic manner. Seth Rogen as husband Lou also delivered one of his strongest dramatic performances.
4. Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Michelle Williams may have a very limited role in Kenneth Lonergan’s heart-breaker Manchester by the Sea. But there are no limits to the gamut of emotions she ingrains into her small role. Williams plays Randi Chandler, a young mother of three who splits with her husband after a shockingly unimaginable tragedy. Casey Affleck plays the husband, who remains the film’s main focus. Both Williams and Affleck portray their characters’ rambunctious married life through myriad of little details. Of course, the duo’s best scene comes later, when devastated Randi and Lee accidentally meet on the street. The scene serves as the fulcrum of the narrative. Williams opts to exhibit her feelings of forgiveness and regret, whereas Affleck remains taciturn and emotionally stunted.
Interestingly, there’s no dynamic verbal exchange in the scene. Yet the movie’s complex thematic strands of blame, guilt, and love are inextricably intertwined in this non-explicit, painful encounter.
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3. Meek’s Cutoff (2010)
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Kelly Reichardt’s frontier drama is set in 1845 in the plains of the vast Oregon desert. It accounts the frustrating journey of a wagon team of three families. Led by the abrasive guide Stephen Meek, the settlers take a shortcut in the desert that nearly threatens their survival. Michelle Williams plays Emily Tetherow, a calm tough-minded individual of the group. Williams’ Emily brings interesting, subtle dynamics to the largely conservative, patriarchal culture. She yet again delivers a fascinating and understated performance. Williams, so far, has chosen roles that downplay her exquisite beauty. This is once again evident in her portrayal of Emily, where the actress conveys depthful emotions through looks and gestures. Meek’s Cutoff isn’t plot-driven. It’s simply a careful re-creation of an early settler’s experience. Hence, Kelly Reichardt’s hypnotic shots and Williams’ naturalistic presence work in tandem to provide the perfect sensory experience.
2. Wendy and Lucy (2008)
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Kelly Reichardt’s poetically minimalist movie tells the story of a young woman and her dog. While the plot involving a lost dog might dismay many viewers, Reichardt’s treatment is absolutely undramatic. Michelle Williams is Wendy, who lives out of her car with her dog Lucy. She’s en-route to work in Alaska, but the car breaks down, leaving her stranded in a decaying Oregon mill town. Soon, she also loses her beloved dog. As her financial problems rise, the vulnerable Wendy faces little cruelties and unexpected kindness from the local residents. The unadorned landscape and naturalistic performances are what impart a profound effect on us. It’s both a devastating portrait of a lonely individual and an economically downgraded community. Naturally, Williams’ performance is beautifully restrained and so inward. The weariness in her face flawlessly convinces the pain and desperation of an economic migrant.
1. Blue Valentine (2010)
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Derek Cianfrance’s brilliant portrait of lost marriage gained another Oscar nomination for Michelle Williams. The film was repeatedly cited for the extreme method-acting techniques by the central pair – Ryan Gosling and Michelle. Blue Valentine moves between two periods of the romantic couples’ life. It starts with the beginning of tentative romance and later to the troubling marriage phase. After six years of living together, the couple find themselves at opposite ends. There are no villains or extra-marital affair in the narrative. Only the passage of time withers their love for each other. In order to experience the character struggles, Cianfrance had Gosling and Michelle live together with their onscreen daughter in a rural house. They did all the mundane, frustrating tasks that make a domestic relationship.
Both the actors deliver a tour de force performance, although Gosling’s exemplary turn has a slight edge over Williams’. There might have been numerous actresses in the history of cinema to express the beauty of falling in love. But no one could depict the devastating feelings of falling out of love like Williams. She flawlessly captures the hurt and disappointment that propels the couple’s break-up.
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