Ana de Armas is a striking Marilyn Monroe. She nails the mannerisms, the facial expressions and the body language. With an impressive team of makeup, hair and costume artists, she becomes Marilyn Monroe, aka Norma Jeane.
This is the irony of "Blonde," a muddled, artsy and empty biopic about the iconic actress: For a woman whose talents were always overshadowed by her physical appearance, the movie looks just swell, but it is so caught up in its own glamour that it fails to glance inward.
Marilyn has always captivated the public, but we wish we knew more about her thoughts, her motivations, her mind. "Blonde" does none of this, even while pretending to pull back the curtain on her life. Instead, it perpetuates the same myths, stereotypes and negativity that has always been cast upon Monroe. This movie is not an answer to any questions we had about her. Instead, it represents part of the problem.
"Blonde" is based on the 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates, and is a swirling conundrum of a film. It switches aspect ratios, delves into black-and-white as well as color, and nearly distracts from its already fascinating subject. It shows a young Norma Jeane Mortenson and her traumatic upbringing, mostly due to her mentally ill mother (Julianne Nicholson). Norma Jeane of course would transform herself into the biggest Hollywood star of the 1950s and 1960s - becoming a separate persona altogether called Marilyn Monroe - but her rise to fame is an ugly, dehumanizing journey. There is more than one rape scene, and enough close-ups of Marilyn's face in complete inner anguish and turmoil, to make this nearly 3-hour exercise as uncomfortable as possible.
Her love interests sort of sling the movie's narrative together, from her open relationship with Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams) and the son of Charlie Chaplin, Cass (Xavier Samuel), right on through to Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale), Arthur Miller (Adrian Brody) and even JFK himself (Caspar Phillipson). Marilyn is never valued, never truly loved and we all know how it ended for her, so what is the point of all of this? She commits suicide at age 36 (spoiler!) after a life full of abuse. Was there nothing redeeming about Marilyn Monroe? This movie doesn't seem to think so.
Ana de Armas does a splendid job, ultimately, but I found her accent to come in-and-out more than a few times. But performance quibbles aside, the main problem is that director Andrew Dominik's vision is a dark and simple-minded one. With all of the flashy camerawork and avante-garde touches, he doesn't seem to want to redeem his subject, but rather kick her when she's down. It's one thing to show a person's struggles, and then there is exploitation of someone's suffering. "Blonde" dabbles in the latter.
Elton John, in his song about Marilyn, wrote "It seems to me, you lived your life like a candle in the wind. Never knowing who to cling to when the rain came in." Maybe it's true that we'll never quite know what made Marilyn Monroe tick, or what exactly led up to her premature death. But surely there are more poetic takes on her life than what is presented to us in "Blonde." Like a predator on a first date, it feigns interest in the person's mind but really just wants to sleep with her.
Genre: Biography, Drama.
Run Time: 2 hours 46 minutes.
Starring: Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Scoot McNairy, Garret Dillahunt, Julianne Nicholson, Sara Paxton.
Based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates
Written and Directed by Andrew Dominik ("Killing Them Softly," "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford").
"Blonde" is in limited theatrical release and streaming on Netflix on Friday, September 23rd, 2022.
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