- Run time: 2 hours 46 minutes
- Studio: Netflix
- Director: Andrew Dominik
- Where to Watch: Netflix
Blonde is a Netflix Original production released in 2022 about Marilyn Monroe, the original blonde bombshell. Directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, and Julianne Nicholson. Cleverly disguised as a fictional biopic based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, Blonde is a 2 hour 45 minute picture filled with scenes containing non stop abuse and pain. Dominik weaves a story of turmoil and stupidity that uses Monroe’s image and nature against the audience as a point of emphasis for how dirty the silver age of Hollywood really was. Often romanticized as the place where dreams are made, old Hollywood is not the glitz and glamour that audiences are accustomed to in Blonde. Dominik’s unconventional and brutal tale is a shameful exposure for the people who made their fortunes off the backs of abuse and assault.
Norma Jeane is a young girl living with her unstable mother. After her mother attempts to drown her in a bathtub, Norma passes from foster home to foster home as her mother rots in a mental institution. During her stints with foster parents, Norma continues to track down her real father, a man her mother believed worked at a movie studio in Hollywood. Norma starts auditioning for bit roles in movies until she is “discovered” by the studio system and becomes an A-lister. Thus begins the life of Marilyn Monroe, platinum blonde bombshell of old Hollywood. Several years pass and Norma Jeane is forced to compete with her alter ego for who gets to live the life of the Hollywood starlet. Publicity, pressure, and popularity eventually win out and Marilyn takes center stage. Unable to stand up for herself in the face of oppression from Hollywood execs, star athletes, and world leaders, Norma Jeane is continuously beat down for daring to be different from her stage persona.
Andrew Dominik directs this highly stylized Netflix Original and brings a few dynamic visuals to the table. That is probably the nicest thing I can say about this movie. It is visually bold at times and that’s about it. There are some clever shots where Norma Jeane “sees” things as if she’s equipped with “movie vision”. My interpretation of that is that it was supposed to speak to her natural star power and ability to visualize the scene. But I don’t think that really describes Monroe accurately as the movie makes her appear stupider and doe eyed than she might have really been. There are a few other interesting shots where some bed sheets gradually fade into Niagara Falls that look good. But the transition comes after a vigorous and strangely depicted three-way between Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin Jr., and Eddie Robinson Jr. That’s not a sentence I ever thought I would write, by the way.
The movie is rife with aspect ratio changes, color grading changes, focus swaps, etc. and it gets very distracting after only the first 30 minutes. The movie begins to feel like a chore to look at towards the 1 hour mark and especially after the THIRD CGI FETUS shot. I get it Andrew, Marilyn’s life sucked and everything was hard. You’ve made your point redundant and uninteresting. The more subtle approach worked better, like the scene with the red carpet screening of one of Marilyn’s movies. The theater is backlit with red glow and casts a ghoulish red glow symbolizing the hell that Marilyn has found herself in. de Armas locks eyes with the camera and stars into the audience behind the screen while the audience in the theater looks beyond the camera and into what they are watching.
As for casting Ana de Armas as Norma Jeane, that was a no brainer by Dominik. She has been on an upward trajectory ever since she appeared in Bladerunner 2049 and Knives Out. With some makeup and accent coaching, de Armas fits right into the role of poor Norma Jeane. Her fragile and girlish nature really plays up the gentle heart that Dominik wanted to push the audience into pitying. But when the going gets rough, and believe me it does, de Armas shows up with tears in her eyes and a scream trapped in her throat as the world takes advantage of her character.
Supporting de Armas is Julianne Nicholson, who plays Norma Jeane’s mother Gladys. She is completely unhinged and only has around 20 minutes of screen time but it is profoundly impactful on Norma Jeane. Then there are the four main lovers in her life. There’s Charlie Chaplin Jr played by Xavier Samuel and his buddy Eddie Robinson Jr played by Evan Williams. These two clowns are off putting and have a polyamorous relationship with Marilyn and every drug under the sun it seems. The three of them mesh well throughout their scenes and ultimately their characters abuse Norma just as much as the later lovers do.
The next lover is “The Athlete”, played by Bobby Canavale. This mysterious athlete is modeled after Joe DiMaggio, famous baseball player and womanizer / abuser. Canavale does a marvelous job of being a great public facing husband, but a jealous prick in private that hits Norma Jeane and abuses her constantly. Next, there’s Adrien Brody who plays “The Playwright” aka Arthur Miller. The Playwright is Marilyn’s last husband and while he was portrayed as a hope for a better life for Norma, it wasn’t meant to be. He expects a housewife from Norma but she isn’t quite capable of doing that. For reasons that are not very clear through one viewing, Norma leaves Brody’s character and is next seen being abused by a certain square jawed, soon to be assassinated president. Each of her husbands, lovers, abusers, managers, etc., expect something from her that she’s not capable of giving or being and she’s punished for it. Each interaction with another character is largely the same, with Norma Jeane getting her confused heart broken and suffering from the pressures of stardom.
Andrew Dominik’s Blonde is an overly indulgent haymaker of a movie with an NC-17 rating due to the extremely explicit depictions of Marilyn Monroe and those that surrounded her. With Ana de Armas leading the movie as the original blonde bombshell, Blonde fails to provide anything entertaining for the audience. It sacrifices story for simply guilt tripping the audience over the course of the 2 hour 45 minute runtime by way of extreme and graphic abuse. It fails to do anything other than force the audience to relive the fictionalized (but most likely accurate) traumas simply for shock value. One compliment may be given, even if it is for something that is most likely unintentional. Blonde does away with the picturesque version of old Hollywood and shows it as it really was – those in power taking advantage of those with no voice to stand up for themselves and the system that they crafted. It is not a movie I see myself watching ever gain and it is definitely difficult to recommend.