Synopsis – A fictionalized chronicle of the inner life of Marilyn Monroe.
My Take – Though she passed away 60 years ago, Marilyn Monroe continues to be adored in the public. As a actress in 1950s Hollywood, Monroe single-handedly personified glamour, vulnerability and sensuality all together, behind all the untapped potential. A result of which the films in which she chose to star in continue to be watched worldwide.
However behind the gorgeous face lied a gentle, sensitive soul who struggle to cope and survive right from her difficult, unstable and lonely childhood. Without much guidance, Monroe struggled long and hard to become a star, and when she did, people hardly noticed the raw talent behind the raw beauty.
And while most films (mostly made for TV) and documentaries about her life and death are known to have taken the care to focus on how the beautiful, vulnerable woman, who came across as so lovable on the screen, never got the love she deserved, this latest take instead sees writer-director Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly) turn her life into a surrealist psychological horror drama.
While the idea is indeed unique, the resulting film is undoubtedly an unremittingly, unhappy imaginative take on the elusive Hollywood superstar who became a template for achieving fame and losing identity. A film which instead of focusing on both the bitter and the sweet, settles just on the bad, the ugly, the dark and the crazy.
Sure, it is technically well crafted and sees rising talent Ana de Armas give her career best to the role, yet the joyless film, jumping from one traumatic fever dream to the next, reduces the cultural icon into nothing short of a punching bag. Although there are insightful moments and surreal bits that pop, it’s overall a bizarre trip, which with its 166 minute run time feels rather bloated. Making it a film which attempts to honor its subject, but instead lets down her legacy.
Based on Joyce Carol Oates‘ 2001 novel, the story follows Norma Jeane (Ana de Armas), who as 7-year-old girl survives a traumatic event and is essentially orphaned when her mentally ill mother (Julianne Nicholson) is hospitalized and all she knows of her absent dad is a single picture. Growing up Norma Jeane embarks on an acting career, and adopts the Marilyn persona as she has to submit sexually to a Tinsel town power player.
Only to find solace and acceptance with her relationship with Cass Chaplin (Xavier Samuel) and Eddy Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams), two sons of classic film stars, with the two beginning an early ménage à trois with Marilyn. As Marilyn becomes a huge celebrity, Norma Jeane has difficulty keeping it together behind the scenes, struggling with drugs and her tumultuous love life, from the abusive Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) to the odd marriage to Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody). Yet none appear to acknowledge her wit and smarts-mostly just her body and elusive allure.
First and foremost, this film is very difficult to get through. Plus it felt so messy and everything was one tone the entire way through, it was disaster after disaster with no room to breathe. Here, writer-director Andrew Dominik perceives Marilyn Monroe and Norma Jeane as two distinct personas, the former being a glow filled, on-screen cover-up for the distressed latter. But as the film is only interested in showcasing the worst of her life, we feel disconnected early on, especially given the film goes on for an unconscionably long periods of time.
Throughout, he frequently puts the viewer in her dreamy, discombobulating perspective, yet Marilyn’s torturous journey – involving so many crying jags – is very painful to watch. Constantly waiting for her real father to show up, Marilyn is shown as a woman with daddy issues who calls her lovers “Daddy”, which sounds stranger than it is endearing. The film clearly wants us to feel for Norma Jeane, but it dwells on her pain so obsessively — never more so than when she’s shown being sexually assaulted by President Kennedy, that the film’s empathy feels like another form of exploitation.
Marilyn Monroe may have been a glossy Hollywood construct, one that Norma Jeane herself had a hand in creating. But the film is too repetitive to bring us any closer to understanding the woman behind that construct. Throughout director Dominik uses digital wizardry and unique angles, such as when her raucous threesome bed changes into Niagara Falls, niftily connecting her life with her film, Niagara (1953).
At other times he shifts between color and black and white and varies aspect ratios, I suppose, to connect her career with her life because of the many kinds of films she made. Yet, in the end it leaves one feeling that Monroe deserved better, not just from the industry that chewed her up and spat her out, but from any filmmaker hoping to make sense of her legacy.
Without a doubt, Ana de Armas does all the heavy lifting here. Reportedly it took her nine months to master Marilyn’s accent and the actor does a fabulous job in embodying the cult figure. There is a thin line in a biopic around which one acts and mimics, the latter is where the actor doesn’t even enter once in the entire runtime. She is in every single frame of the film, the vulnerability and the chaos, nothing overshadows the prolific performance. In supporting turns, Julianne Nicholson, Adrien Brody and Bobby Cannavale played their role perfectly.
While Xavier Samuel and Evan Williams manage to impress in their short turns. In smaller roles, Toby Huss, Garret Dillahunt, Caspar Phillipson, Chris Lemmon, Dan Butler, Michael Masini, Sara Paxton, Spencer Garrett, Lucy DeVito, Rebecca Wisocky, Ned N Bellamy and Michael Masini stand out. On the whole, ‘Blonde’ is a ruthlessly dour and joyless biopic that feels both exploitative and flat, despite a career best turn from Ana de Armas.
Directed – Andrew Dominik
Rated – R
Run Time – 166 minutes