With Blonde, Ana de Armas skillfully exposes the horrible suffering that Marilyn Monroe was hiding under her stunning façade, but Andrew Dominik drowns it in sensationalism. Check out the Pinkvilla review.
Marilyn Monroe’s mysterious history has served as an exploitative theme for a number of films and TV series throughout the years. Underneath the “blonde bombshell” name, Andrew Dominik’s Blonde, featuring Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe, adds yet another “man gaze” examination of Norma Jeane. Does Blonde do justice to the perpetually misunderstood Norma Jeane with so many variations of Marilyn Monroe’s trauma-filled, well publicised personal life that culminated to her untimely death? Let’s investigate!
Blonde, which is based on the best-selling book of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, provides us a scary, dark, and obviously fictitious perspective on the inner and exterior monsters surrounding Marilyn Monroe (a trigger warning should have been provided!). Because it would be a terrible disrespect to the Hollywood legend, it is not to be confused for a biography of her! You feel uncomfortable for Marilyn Monroe throughout the two hours and forty minutes, from her troubled childhood with Lily Fisher being outstanding as a young Norma Jeane, to being tortured both physically and mentally by her unstable mother Gladys (a terrific Julianne Nicholson!) – who drives her straight through a fire-ridden Hollywood and nearly drowns her in the bathtub – to her constant search for an abandoned father through the many “creepy, ugly” love interests in her life.
In Blonde, Marilyn is constantly put under a male-dominated microscope on both a physical and mental level, whether it be Hollywood heavyweights like Fox executive Darryl F. Zanuck (David Warshofsky) who exploit Monroe in the name of stardom, or her controlling husbands, whom Marilyn refers to as “Daddies” for added effect. Xavier Samuel and Evan Williams play Charlie Chaplin and Edward G. Robinson’s sons in a dubious glamorous throuple with Marilyn Monroe, and Caspar Phillipson plays the President. Even her devoted fans openly gawk at the actress as nothing but a sex symbol to objectify and devour. Adrien Brody and Bobby Cannavale as The “manipulative” Playwright and the “abusive” Ex-Athlete are both marvell
Blonde’s NC-17 designation was probably gained by one particularly painful scene, “The President,” which touches on Marilyn’s purported infatuation with JFK. This scene was scripted and shot as though it were to realise Andrew Dominick’s experimental filmmaking ambitions, which are impossible to comprehend. Equally vile is the use of Norma Jeane’s desire to have children and her experience of losing them to abortion and miscarriage, in which Marilyn starts talking to the baby and finally receives a response. The movie desperately tries to grasp suspension of disbelief, but the embryo CGI undermines it. Another particularly contentious scene that is expected to ignite a debate over anti-abortion legislation is the one in which Marilyn’s foetus is seen insulting the actress and blaming her for its demise.
In terms of technique, Blonde’s unconventional cinematography by Chayse Irvin is driven by the constant blending of aspect ratios and alternating between black and white and colour, which is especially evident in the scenes where we see Marilyn Monroe’s greatest performances, like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in crowded theatres. The operatic soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis accomplishes nothing to heighten the heightened tensions that Marilyn Monroe is continually exposed to.
Despite the outstanding work of Blonde’s production designer Florencia Martin and costume designer Jennifer Johnson, who is divinely visible in the scene recreating Marilyn Monroe’s famous skirt-flying scene from The Seven Year Itch, the genre transformation we end up with is a shady horror film with terrifying consequences that restricts the main protagonist sketch. Equally to blame is the excessive desire to subject Monroe to horrific events with men, such as domestic abuse and casting, one after another, channelling the very sexual mania to which Marilyn was subjected throughout her whole career. It is the height of absurdity to portray her as being stupid in her own narrative when, in reality, she was anything but.
Another issue is that, despite Blonde’s length, Andrew Dominick’s screenplay never really settles on the part of Marilyn Monroe he wants to emphasise. When you’re emotionally prepared to invest, you’re forced to change gears. Blonde performs best when Ana de Armas’ portrayal of Marilyn Monroe is the main emphasis and aesthetic considerations are secondary.
Speaking of Ana de Armas, who is the primary reason Blonde merits praise, the Cuban actress is superb as Marilyn Monroe. Anyone who criticised her casting will undoubtedly eat out of her hand. Even Armas’ accent pays homage to Norma Jeanes’ innocence by perfectly capturing her body, even down to her recognisable million-dollar smile. Even when it appears as though Norma Jeane is at her happiest, Ana is able to masterfully convey Norma Jeane’s suffering through the figure of Marilyn Monroe, a reoccurring narrative arc in Blonde. A viewer is impacted when Marilyn Monroe’s perspective is highlighted above other viewpoints. However, they are quite scarce.
In the end, Blonde utilises Marilyn Monroe as a crude caricature to remind us how demeaning Hollywood was and perhaps still is to women. The stylized projection doesn’t offer any justification for its presence; rather, it only reiterates how it’s about time Hollywood stopped oversexualizing Marilyn Monroe and her death every chance they had and allowed her and her enigmatic being to lie in peace.
In conclusion, these gifted ladies would have chosen anything other than Blonde despite Ana de Armas’ amazing portrayal of Marilyn Monroe!