A rising superstar confronts endless assaults on her sanity in Blonde.
The troubled life of Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe (Ana de Armas) had its roots in a rocky childhood under the control of an unhinged, unbalanced mother (Julianne Nicholson). Young Norma Jeane, as she was then known, struggled to forge an identity that she could call her own. Failing to find such self-worth from within, she instead found solace in the creation of a new alter ego, one with which to face life’s harshest realities. None of it worked as she quickly found herself surrounded by predatory men interested in only a conquest or how they might leverage her assets for their own financial gain. The toll on her psyche would tear at the fabric of the façade, exposing a tormented soul with little strength or will to carry on.
Writer/director Andrew Dominik, who once upon a time brought us the highly-regarded The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, embarks on a meandering, dreamlike journey that ultimately goes nowhere and imparts nothing in which you can put any faith. Dominik litters the screen with countless “artistic” flourishes that fail to deliver anything even remotely engaging. Black-and-white sequences, designed to add impact, fail to follow any rhyme or reason. Gratuitous nude scenes, overt visuals and truckloads of imagined scenarios feel more like a director obsessed with his subject and his star than a fictionalized examination of the legend. Its platinum sheen is nothing more than a dime-store dye job.
I never thought that I’d have to use the term “excessive excess” to describe a film, but it’s a concept that Dominik seems to treat as a virtue over something to be avoided. He takes you, literally, inside Monroe’s vagina not once, but twice. I’m not sure that anyone is that big of a Monroe fan. You get silly games like her famous birthmark moving all over her face. I couldn’t help but notice because of the endless myopic camerawork that made me want to move several rows back from the screen. None of what’s shown feels authentic, and much of it is so absurdly imagined as to be laughable. For example, Dominik suggests that a major blow played a critical role in Marilyn’s ultimate decision to give up on life. The only problem is that the referenced incident didn’t occur until six years after her death. Why stop there? Perhaps all of her demons were due to a barrage of harsh tweets.
To make it all the more unbearable, nearly every shot goes on well past necessity, which helps explain its interminable running time of 2 hours and 46 minutes. There’s also the challenge of trying to keep up with the characters in Monroe’s life. They often show up long before Dominik bothers to actually identify any of them by name. You can make the argument that this is more about her story than the people in her life, but doesn’t it make more sense to actually let the audience know that Monroe’s abusive husband was legendary baseball Hall of Famer Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale in a flawless performance)?
Some will argue that this is not a biopic. The problem is that the main draw here is Monroe — and everyone responsible for the film knows it. A random film about some random blonde actress just doesn’t have the same pull — and you can be certain Netflix is more than aware of that. That said, nearly all my concerns remain regardless of the subject matter. This is just not an enjoyable experience and no amount of slick tricks are going to change that.
As for de Armas’s performance, it’s a mixed bag. She often slides in and out of her natural, strong accent, though at times appears like a mirror image of Marilyn. Those truly interested in a better sense of the superstar would be better advised to check out Michelle Williams‘s work in My Week with Marilyn. Not only is it a better film, but there’s also no risk of sudden vaginal camera locations.