Blondthe new film by Andrew Dominik (Killing them softly, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), is two hours and forty-six minutes long, most of which is devoted to convincing us that Marilyn Monroe was abused, assaulted, and harmed throughout her life and career, that she was miserable and misunderstood, and that she she only existed through and for the male gaze. Based on a (yes, fictional) novel by Joyce Carol Oates, no one would deny that Monroe’s life was in fact hard, that she was used by men with more power than her (i.e. most of them), or that she was unable to get the help she needed and her life came to a tragic end. But Blondwith its overloaded runtime and overdramatic histrionics, refuses to acknowledge any dimensions that existed in Monroe beyond her victimization.
Anne d’Armas (Knives out) because Monroe is captivating; those skeptical of her chops (as, I admit, I was) to pull off this iconic role will be won over in the first half hour, as she pouts, emotive and whispers just like Monroe l ‘did. But after about so long, when de Armas is called upon to cry at the right time, to cower under pressure, to endure emotional and physical abuse so often, even her stellar game becomes exhausting. Surely Monroe had a break from time to time; it’s just that de Armas does too. What could have been the saving grace of what is otherwise a waste of a movie ultimately becomes another victim as Dominik, who wrote the adapted screenplay, doubles down on his myopic view of a woman who, perhaps more than we’ll never know, contained multitudes.
Blond essentially covers Monroe’s entire life, beginning with a troubled childhood with an unstable mother (Julianne Nicholson) who, in between shots, told little Norma Jeane about the father who didn’t want her, a studio executive who she would never know. After her mother is committed to a mental asylum, Norma Jeane is sent to an orphanage, shouting all the time that she is not an orphan; even the actress playing young Norma Jeane, Lily Fisher, must be overstating her trauma. Blond has a lot of ground to cover, so the next section of Monroe’s life is mostly glossed over, as she is discovered, begins modeling and has even taken nude photos, a job that will come back to haunt her. in the prim and proper ’50s as its star rose to fame. Her breakthrough in show business is the first brutal confrontation Dominik tells us for what kind of story we are: In a meeting with a studio executive, Monroe barely gets a word before seeing him unbuckle his pants and lean Monroe over to rape her from behind. The movie is filled with that kind of misogyny, overt or not. Sometimes it’s the camera following Monroe’s movements at donkey height, men’s heads spinning and gaping as she passes. Sometime in the White House, JFK lay in bed with an unnamed but still perfectly capable physical illness of forcing Monroe to perform oral sex on him, a near impossible-to-digest scene and likely what gave the film its NC-17 rating.
As Monroe’s fame grows, so does her frailty. She has very few, if any, people in her life she can trust, and even a reunion with her mother is a disappointment because the senile woman does not recognize this platinum blonde woman who has come to see her. There are relationships, of a sort of apparent “thruple” with Cass Chaplin, Jr. (Charlie’s son, played by Xavier Samuel) and Eddy G. Robinson, Jr (the actor’s son, played by Evan Williams), who glimpses a bit of Monroe’s free spirit until he’s crushed by jealousies and nervous agents who don’t want him out, at weddings to “The Ex-Athelete” (clearly DiMagio, played by Bobby Canavale) and “The Playwright” (clearly Arthur Miller, played by Adrien Brody), both of which are highly toxic in their own way. Dominik isn’t content to let these doomed relationships play out to their known conclusions; instead, he insists on infantilizing Monroe over and over again as she refers to any man she’s attached to as “daddy”, whimpering and simpering for their approval.
While Dominik’s approach to telling Monroe’s story is disappointing to say the least, he could be forgiven if he at least built it around a structurally sound and cohesive movement that makes the case for this otherwise flawed narrative. . Instead, his cinema is so chaotic, so uneven, that it’s almost impossible to find anything redeemable about it. The film alternates between black and white and color sequences, which for a time I thought were depicted when Monroe was Norma Jeane and when she was Marilyn, but either I interpreted that theme totally incorrectly or the Dominik’s use of it eventually becomes so inconsistent. like the rest of his cinema. It also plays with aspect ratios and pulls off some of the most questionable cross-cuts one can remember (one particularly exaggerated moment involves the thruple and…Niagara Falls?).
It’s not that a film exploring the life and work of an icon needs to be polished and smoothed, far from it. Monroe was a complicated, troubled, and yes, abused woman, and it’s a disservice to her legacy (and dangerous to future generations of actresses) to pretend that this side of her life didn’t exist. But it’s also irresponsible to present a film that many will take at face value as semblance of fact that either overcorrects into the darker corners of his life and emotional state or is just plain wrong. More than once, Dominik drives home the thesis that Monroe simply wanted to be known as more than her body, more than her beauty; it’s in these moments that de Armas’ ability to capture a despondent look that will break your heart is on full display. But once he’s established that (or rather, after he’s established it over and over…and over again), the filmmaker doesn’t seem at all interested in telling us what he’s got. did want to be seen as, or who she was when all who held power or influence over her withdrew.
Ultimately, it’s impossible to capture everything and what a person is – any person, let alone someone as remarkable as Monroe – in a single film trying to cover an entire lifetime. That Dominik chooses to make such an uninteresting and convoluted mess of a narrative around Marilyn Monroe is, at best, a bummer, because she’s someone who deserves so much more. Although the conversation is not always positive around Blondit’s a conversation starter at the very least, and that alone may be worth experiencing for yourself.
Blond is playing in select theaters now and arrives on Netflix on September 28.
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