They used to vie for the hearts of teenage America as costars of Dawson's Creek, but since then Katie Holmes' life took a sharp right turn, and Michelle Williams' a left. Katie went for fame, fortune, and the world's biggest old movie star. Michelle followed her heart to the suicidally self-destructive genius of his generation (and six months after his death apparently found happiness with Spike Jonze, satirized by his ex Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation as a shallow, faithless fame whore and starlet suckup). As Katie ends a lucrative but not raved stint on Broadway and shoots a potential comeback comedy, The Extra Man, Michelle basks in artsy glory for her $300,000 indie hit Wendy and Lucy and finishes what could be her biggest movie yet, Martin Scorsese's Dennis Lehane thriller Shutter Island with Leo DiCaprio. Now is the right time to pose the question: Which one is better?
Ooh, that's a tough one. Do we like Michelle's slender, almost boyish girlishness or Katie's oft-flashed curvaceous protuberances, as exaggerated as the Venus of Willendorf? Michelle's slitty blue eyes or Katie's asymmetrical, dark doe eyes? If her face were any more asymmetrical, she'd be Ellen Barkin, who looks like somebody put a magnet to her mug on TV, distorting the whole left side. Which is cuter, Michelle's very slightly bee-stung Clara Bow cupid's bow or Katie's lucky grin, so lopsided it looks like it was drawn for Archie Comics? Speaking in Archie archetypes, Michelle got the skin pale as a winter's dawn in northern Norway, Katie a duskier allure -- though Katie was the virginal, Bettyesque girl next door on Dawson's Creek and Michelle the Veronica-ish man-killer, Michelle got Betty's blonde locks (dyed, Michelle says) and Katie Veronica's brunette come-hither coils. Michelle is tiny, Katie tall (at least next to runty hubby Tom Cruise). Since scientists have determined that beauty is largely a matter of symmetry, we must side with Michelle. And for an irresistibly horrifying peek at how Katie's beauty might crumble in time, check out the morphing of her face into her mother's on this website.
Katie got straight A's in school, a highly respectable 1310 on her SAT, and acceptance to Ivy League Columbia University, which she only had time to attend for one class one summer. I do not know whether or not it was smart to marry Tom Cruise -- depends on how you feel about Scientology and millions of dollars and snapping flashbulbs. Michelle dropped out at 15 and emancipated herself from her parents, but that might have been a smart move, since her classmates at her California Christian school were bullying her for being a budding movie star. Eighth-graders can be so awkward when you play the younger version of an evil alien (Natasha Henstridge in Species) who gets naked in a hot tub and punches her tongue tentacle through the back of her attempted rapist's skull! Despite her truncated education, Michelle read way too much Emerson and Whitman as a teen and spends her movie bucks collecting rare books. Katie used to be more articulate and funny than Michelle in interviews, but post-Tom she sounds robotic, or at least carefully scripted, while Michelle still sounds deeply thoughtful. Call it a draw.
Don't let's condescend to these kids. Katie holds her own opposite uber-talent Tobey Maguire in both The Ice Storm and Wonder Boys, an overlooked masterpiece where she plays Michael Douglas' levelheaded literary acolyte. She's terrific in Thank You for Smoking as the scarily ruthless reporter who wants to shtupp the hero (on top, of course) while watching him on TV. And Michelle is utterly wonderful, not only in her Oscar-nominated turn as a gay cowpoke's tortured spouse in Brokeback Mountain, but in a mountain of classy indie flicks. Forced to choose, I'd pick Michelle's elusive, quieter, riskier, more emotionally resonant gift over Katie's more traditional movie-star acting.
Katie used to have oodles of taste. Lots of teen stars wouldn't know highbrow writers like Michael Chabon, Dennis Potter, and Christopher Buckley from Adam, but Katie signed on and gave flesh to their literary visions. When Doug Liman was not a Bourne Identity megabuck auteur but a mere indie-director weirdo who did not radiate stability or reliability, Katie made Go, another overlooked masterpiece. But when she signed on with Cruise, her taste went out the window. On his probable advice, she spurned reprising her interesting Batman love-interest role in The Dark Knight and madly did Mad Money instead, a pitiable bomb full of women. Maybe Tom jealously regards her once-sexy image: at the Sundance Film Festival, her nude love scene got trimmed from Thank You for Smoking, and the director claimed it had been misplaced (which no one believed). In any case, Michelle's taste is both superior and intact. The Watergate comedy Dick was a brilliant, bold choice for a teen TV star, she was moving as the dwarf-friendly ingenue in The Station Agent, fanatastic as a frail, vain, yet winsome actress in Synecdoche, New York, and world-class as a homeless waif (channeling her own experience on the road at 15) in Wendy and Lucy. No contest.
COURAGE UNDER TABLOID TRAUMATIZATION
For both girls, it sucked to be involved with a major movie star after a string of relative nonentity lovers. Evidently it traumatized Michelle more, since she's the one photographed flipping the bird to the paparazzi who hounded her and Heath Ledger. Katie got a virtual perpetual suntan from shutterbug flashbulbs after she succumbed to Tom's embrace, but it doesn't seem to faze her. Alas, being separated from a fatally self-medicating tortured genius sucks worse than being married to him while he's alive, tabloid-torture-wise. Poor Michelle wins this contest.
Michelle defied the powers that be at her alma mater, Santa Fe Christian, whose headmaster Jim Hopson blasted her in San Diego's Union-Tribune after Brokeback Mountain: "We don't want to have anything to do with her ... Michelle doesn't represent the values of this institution. We would not approve of her movies and TV shows (including the teen drama Dawson's Creek." Of course, the guy never knew her, or he would call her "Shelley," as she was known in school. "I hope we offered her something in life," Hopson went on, "But she made the kinds of choices of which we wouldn't approve ... It's not the word of God." Michelle said, "I got naked on stage (in an off-Broadway show). I did this HBO thing where I'm a lesbian. I mean, good God, I'm just causing shame to my household."
But she did it anyway, for her art. And what did Katie do? Throw out her parochial-school Catholicism along with her down-home old clothes, and trade them in on designer duds and shiny new Scientology ideology. To give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe she's a sincere convert, and that's her perfect right. Some say Katie is like Michelle's character in the movie A Hole in One, who asks her husband to get her a lobotomy.
Let's just leave the religion part out of it. Based on all their career and life moves, it's totally obvious that Michelle is the girl who heroically makes her own way in the world. And she still keeps up with her old, pre-fame friends, while insiders say Katie dropped a great many of those who had loved and supported her for years like a hot rock when Tom gave her a diamond as big as the Ritz.
Bottom line: Katie may make a comeback from motherhood, quit being just the lesser half of TomKat. But Michelle is her own woman, and twice the artist Katie will ever be.