To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Blonde is a historical psychological drama film written and directed by Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly). Featuring Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, Toby Huss, Evan Williams, and Julianne Nicholson the film is an adaptation of the Joyce Carol Oates novel of the same name. The story is a fictionalized take on the life of American actor, singer, and model Norma Jeane Mortenson a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe from her troubled childhood and rising stardom through her tumultuous marriages and eventual suicide.
In 1933 Los Angeles a young Norma Jeane Mortenson (Lily Fisher) is riding in the car with her mother Gladys (Julianne Nicholson). Gladys tells Norma that she has a birthday surprise waiting for her at home. When they arrive, Gladys shows Norma a framed picture of a man on the bedroom wall and tells her he’s her father. She advises Norma that she cannot tell her his name but says he’s an important man and their relationship is complicated. Afterward, Gladys bakes Norma a birthday cake and enjoys a bottle of liquor.
Later that night Gladys awakens Norma and takes her to the car. As Ashes float through the air sirens can be heard in the background and a great wildfire is shown consuming Mount Lee and most of the Hollywood Hills. As cars head toward the city Gladys drives past them into the blaze. She is stopped by a police officer who asks what she’s doing. She advises them that she is taking Norma to her father’s fireproof mansion at the top of Laurel Canyon. The officer doesn’t believe her and sends her home. During the drive, an upset Gladys beats Norma for asking questions about her father, and when they arrive home attempts to drown her in the tub.
Before watching this feature, I didn’t know too much about Marilyn Monroe other than she was this almost mythical character at the center of US pop culture. She is considered one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s, as well as a symbol of the decade’s sexual revolution. She was a top-billed actor during the Golden Age of Hollywood and her films grossed $200 million during her career. Starring in features including As Young as You Feel (1951), The Seven Year Itch (1955), and Some Like It Hot (1959). Since her death, Monroe has been mentioned or portrayed in movies like Insignificance (1985), Norma Jean & Marilyn (1996), and My Week with Marilyn (2011).
Before it even came out Blonde was a polarizing film. There was the casting of Cuban-Spanish actor Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe even though the “blonde bombshell” was Caucasian. Originally Naomi Watts and then Jessica Chastain were attached to the role during early development. Upon confirmation of the NC-17 rating, many felt the film would exploit Monroe’s tragic life rather than document it. On top of all that it’s a film directed by a man about the struggles of a woman. Many commentators, critics, and pundits would suggest a female lens would’ve been more appropriate for this tale.
Blonde is a very rough film to make it through in one sitting. It is long and slow and features very minimal uplifting scenes. It plays out like a fever dream with shifting aspect ratios and color grading. This can leave the audience not knowing what is supposed to be real or a delusion. There are graphic displays of nudity, rape, heavy drug use, physical and sexual abuse, and the attempted murder of a child. We are privy to Monroe experiencing a miscarriage and having multiple abortions. Some of Dominik’s choices when putting this film together are concerning. A specific scene involving Monroe performing fellatio on JFK (Caspar Phillipson) is gratuitous and adds nothing to the film. Hearing her thoughts while performing the act is understandable but the shot used is basically softcore pornography.
Some of the cinematography is great with Chayse Irvin (Lemonade) seamlessly blending scenes i.e. going from a film screening to a plane ride, while others are artsy for the sake of being art i.e the view of a speculum from inside the vagina. The best thing to take away from this movie is the performance given by Ana de Armas. From Knives Out to No Time to Die to The Gray Man de Armas’ versatility is nothing to scoff at. Ana de Armas transforms into Marilyn Monroe on screen and plays her very sympathetic. The way she calls all her husbands daddy evokes the abandonment issues Monroe is going through. To paraphrase Paper Boi “If a girl calls me daddy something wrong happened.” There is also a resilience to the character, bottling up all the pain she goes through and putting on this front of a happy movie star to the public. Considering this film was made to get Netflix awards consideration, I can see de Armas snagging a few nominations this season.
Overall, Blonde is a disturbing, gratuitous, visceral, and sad film with a runtime that is too long for such a tragic story. I give Blonde a Solid 5/10. Ana de Armas does turn in a terrific performance so if you like the arts maybe it’s something you can make it through. This is not something you can watch for fun and it’s not a film worth seeing more than once.