Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Premise: Based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates. A fictionalized biography of Marilyn Monroe (Ana de Armas), dramatizing her life from her troubled childhood to the heights of Hollywood stardom.
What Works: Blonde benefits from some effective casting especially with Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe. Aside from physically resembling Monroe, de Armas also approximates the intangible onscreen charisma that made Monroe a mysterious and fascinating actor. The movie also includes some demonstration of Monroe’s intelligence. As depicted in Blonde, Monroe was a considered actress who brought psychological awareness to her roles and wanted to be more than a pinup. Also impressive is Adrien Brody as the character The Playwright who is obviously a stand-in for Arthur Miller. Their relationship is the one genuinely warm part of the movie and Brody convincingly conveys his character’s love for Monroe; he’s the only person who sees her as more than a sex object. The craftsmanship of Blonde is incredible. Filmmaker Andrew Dominik conjures some extraordinary images especially in the scene transitions. The visual style illustrates the interesting tension of Blonde; the movie is simultaneously beautiful and ugly and that quality speaks to the way Blonde explores society’s regard for women. The film illustrates how female celebrities become inhuman objects. Monroe loses her sense of self and Hollywood controls every aspect of her life.
What Doesn’t: Despite focusing on Marilyn Monroe and featuring her in virtually every scene, viewers are unlikely to come away from Blonde with any deeper understanding of who she was or what she represented. The film critiques the way in which the culture and the media flatten and dehumanize celebrities while participating in exactly the same process. The difference is that Hollywood treated Marilyn Monroe as a sexual icon while Blonde regards her as a victim and nothing more. Monroe is constantly attacked, used, or put down. This is shallow and the film denies Monroe any agency. She’s weirdly childlike and drifts through the movie and her life. That listless quality defines Blonde. The plotting comes across episodic with scenes disconnected from one another. Characters come into Monroe’s life at random, often just to abuse her, and then exit without further comment. That’s most obvious in the single scene that brings Monroe together with a character who represents President John F. Kennedy. The story doesn’t have a shape. It’s not building up to anything. As a result, Blonde feels every moment of its nearly three-hour running time and in the end it isn’t worth the commitment of time and attention.
Disc extras: Available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: Blonde showcases impressive technical filmmaking craft and some game performances but it’s largely an empty and overdone experience. Viewers won’t come away from Blonde with new insights into Marilyn Monroe or the culture’s treatment of female celebrities.
Episode: #927 (November 13, 2022)