NOW ON NETFLIX! Tragic is probably the best word to describe Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe. Given her intense fame, she should have been happy, but as portrayed in Andrew Dominik’s Blonde, Marilyn’s life was full of tragedy. As a child, Norma Jean (Lily Fisher) lived with her bipolar mother, Gladys (Julianne Nicholson). She reveals to Norma Jean that her father is a big name in Hollywood, and one day they will all be reunited. When Gladys tries to drown her daughter after the final rejection of the “big name.” Then Norma Jean lives out her youth in foster care.
From here, Ana de Armas takes over as Marilyn. Her Hollywood career starts with being raped by a studio mogul. Then she enters a throuple with Edward G. Robinson, Jr. and Charles Chaplin, Jr. Her personal life goes sideways with an abortion and marriages to an ex-athlete (Bobby Cannavale) and a playwright (Adrien Brody). All the while, producers force drugs on Marilyn to ensure she’s on set to make films.
Based on Joyce Carol Oates’ fictionalized account of Marilyn Monroe in her eponymous novel, writer/director Dominik focuses all of Blonde on the traumas of Norma Jean/Marilyn Monroe. Visually speaking, this is a beautiful movie, a work of art. The filmmaker tells the story through the lenses of the cameras that filmed all of Monroe’s features. Color and aspect ratios constantly change throughout, signifying shifts in tone and tension as opposed to following the history of cinema throughout Monroe’s life. The film’s shot in aspect ratios ranging from the postage stamp 5:4 to the standard 16:9 and presented in black & white and the stylized colors of the 60s.
“…producers force drugs on Marilyn to ensure she’s on set to make films.”
Blonde should be seen in a theater, and Netflix is making a big mistake streaming it from the start. Though the style may feel confusing or disorientating, the technique is quite effective. It’s disarming and disorienting, which is what Marilyn’s life was. We’re constantly being kept off-guard, which perfectly complements Ana de Armas’ performance.
Ana de Armas is brilliant and personifies a very stylized and tragic version of Marilyn perfectly. Not just in her speech and mannerisms but in the way she conducts herself. She earned this award-worthy role. It’s worth mentioning that though the movie is NC-17, the nudity is rated-R toplessness and never explicit. De Armas is also drop-dead gorgeous. Marilyn used her beauty as a means to survive. She also clearly used it to find meaning in her life. Marilyn’s portrayed as well-read and serious about the craft of acting. The tragedy of her life was that it was never her own and that someone, in fact, many someones, was always pulling the strings.
Much like Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, Blonde doesn’t end so well for Marilyn, but then again, we knew this going in. This speaks to the drama’s most significant problems: its length and tone. It is almost three torturous hours long, ending on a very dark note. Great movies should make you feel, and Dominik makes you feel a lot of horrible feelings. The entire film is a collection of Norma Jean’s trauma, and it is relentless. She’s taken advantage of, beaten, and abused in the worst ways, and after the two-hour point, I wanted to end my life the same way she did. However, instead of a happy ending, the story arc is flipped as Marilyn’s life starts from bad to worse with a brief moment of happiness with the Playwright.
Ultimately, Blonde is a recommend but loaded with caveats and disclaimers. It’s not for everyone. Its artistic visuals and Ana de Armas’ spot-on performance as Marilyn Monroe are worth seeing. But the almost three hours of emotional trauma may be a hard pass for most.
"…de Armas is brilliant and personifies a very stylized and tragic version of Marilyn perfectly."