By Lynn Venhaus
Based on the 2000 fictional novel by Joyce Carol Oates, “Blonde” is a deeply flawed semi-biopic that blurs fantasy and reality regarding the life of movie star Marilyn Monroe. The reality is an alarming American tragedy, and the fiction is a relentlessly disturbing film.
The film “Blonde” reimagines the life of the Hollywood legend, from her traumatic childhood as Norma Jeane Baker, through her rise to stardom and romantic entanglement. Writer-director Andrew Dominik blurs the lines of fact and fiction, exploring the difference between her public and private self
With its NC-17 rating and shocking graphic sexual content, “Blonde” is a polarizing, controversial take on one of Hollywood’s most enduring icons. Norma Jeane deserved better in life, and a much better representation in a film after her death.
Not that Ana de Armas doesn’t impress in a remarkable transformation as the stunningly gorgeous, breathy-voiced actress whose traumatic childhood forever damaged her psyche. She has the look, the voice, and the demeanor down pat in her recreation, but regrettably, spends a huge chunk of the film in tears.
She wears those memorable outfits well, and costume designer Jennifer Johnson captures every look in meticulous detail.
With such copious nudity and its 2-hour, 46-minute runtime, at least a half-hour of bare breasts could have been cut. Not that more incisive editing would have saved the film, but it sure would have helped.
Writer-director Andrew Dominik worked on bringing this adaptation to the screen for over 10 years. The source material is already suspect anyway because it’s filmed as a dreamy fantasy – so unless you know the factual details of Marilyn’s life, you will be adrift. What’s fake and what really happened? You’ll have to find that out on your own.
For instance, her first husband, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, is not referred to by name in the credits, only “Ex-Athlete.” To be fair, Bobby Cannavale is a fine embodiment of the slugger.
As her second husband Arthur Miller, Adrien Brody fares better and has the best scene when they first talk. It’s well-established that Miller was captivated by her enthusiasm for ‘the work,’ and her knowledge of literature and characters. She had an intuitive sense of the material, but sadly, wasn’t allowed to realize her great potential.
Growing up with a schizophrenic mother (a terrifying performance by Julianne Nicholson), Norma Jeane was sent to an orphanage. She endured so much hardship that we see why she had massive daddy issues and just wanted to be loved. Young actress Lily Fisher is gut-wrenching as the young Norma Jeane.
Starting out as a model, Monroe transitioned to film – her first role was in the Oscar-winning “All About Eve” as the wicked George Sanders’ date. The studio system’s casting couch is nothing new, but the way Marilyn was brutalized by men in power is upsetting. Treated like a boy-toy and nothing more than a sexual plaything is quite unsettling, and when the film dissolves into porn-like scenes with her lascivious pals Charlie Chaplin Jr. (Xavier Samuel) and Edgar G. Robinson Jr. (Garret Dillahunt), it’s squirm-time.
(I’m wondering how long it will take Netflix viewers to turn off the film after those graphic sexual encounters take place). The sleazier things, especially the lewd JFK scene, are painful..
The fantasy aspect is reason for concern, and after revealing she has a studio-ordered abortion, then she loses a baby through miscarriage, later. Did we need a voice and image of the fetuses?
Dominik’s overly melodramatic and turgid script, which he describes as an avalanche of images and events, is muddled and messy, and does not serve the actress well. No one is depicted in a good light. (Although cinematographer Chayse Irvin’s work with stark black and white vs. scenes of technicolor is interesting).
The movie shows only fleeting snippets of joy, and yes, her public and private images are contrasted in a very uncomfortable way. — lecherous and leery distortions.
“Blonde” is a confusing, perturbing, grim film that does the tragic star a disservice and winds up more of a nightmare because of its fever dream elements. I will never watch this again, and I can’t unsee things I wish I could.
“Blonde” is a 2022 drama-fantasy written and directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, Garret Dillahunt, Julianne Nicholson, and Lily Fisher.
It is rated NC-17 for some sexual content and the runtime is 2 hours, 46 minutes.
It streams on Netflix beginning Sept. 28, and is in selected theaters Sept. 23 (but not in St. Louis). Lynn’s Grade: D.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.