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Blonde Review: A Nightmare Marilyn Monroe Biopic

by Andrew Dominic blond it opens, appropriately enough, with the flicker of light bulbs. In several brief, flickering moments, we see an avalanche of images: cameras flashing, spotlights buzzing, men roaring with excitement (or anger, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference), and at the center of it all is her, Marilyn. Monroe (played by Ana de Armas), striking her most iconic pose as a gust of wind lifts her white dress. It’s an opening that makes sense for a movie about a fictionalized version of Monroe’s life, one that firmly roots the viewer in the world and space of a movie star. But to focus only on De Armas’s Marilyn is to miss the point. blondopening moments.

As the rest of Dominik’s bold and flawed film demonstrates, blond It’s not just about recreating iconic moments, nor is it just about creating the best moments of Monroe’s career. Instead, it is about exposure, and specifically the act of exposing oneself (for art, fame, love) and the ways in which the world often reacts to such raw vulnerability. In the case of blondwe are shown how a world of men took advantage of Monroe’s vulnerability by trying to control her image and downplay her talent.

blond it does not always succeed in correcting that same sin. There are moments where Dominik, unfortunately, seems to be playing more into the hyper-sexualization and infantilization of Monroe that has run rampant for decades, attempting to turn her into nothing more than a naïve sexpot with no agency of her own. But there are also times when blond feels like the most generous fictional portrayal of Monroe to date, one that wants nothing more than to honor her not just as an all-time movie star, but as a brave and capable artist.

It’s not your usual biopic.

Netflix, 2022

blond, which is based on the divisive 2000 novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, makes no attempt to tell the true story of Marilyn Monroe’s life. Instead, what the film presents is an impressionistic portrayal of how Norma Jeane Mortenson, the woman who became the movie star known as Marilyn Monroe, was used and abused by the very people who were supposed to protect and support her. The film’s culprits are many and varied: from Marilyn’s abusive and emotionally unstable mother (Julianne Nicholson) to the retired baseball star-turned-second husband (played by Bobby Cannavale) and, finally, the leader of the free world. (Caspar Phillipson).

Nearly everyone in the film is based on people from Monroe’s real life, but their portrayals are, at times, far removed from reality. It’s important to note that from the start because, for some viewers, the film’s decision to imagine Monroe’s life as potentially more traumatic than it actually was may be seen as too big a question to ask. For others, like me, the film’s lies can only help make the truths about Monroe’s life and legacy, both the painful and the euphoric, that much deeper. The film, to its credit, also doesn’t try to present itself as a grounded biopic.

clocking in at a whopping 166 minutes, blond it floats through its story, adopting a leisurely pace and an editorial style that actively opposes any kind of traditional narrative structure. Watching it doesn’t feel like you’re being led through a typical three-act story, but rather an endless montage that only occasionally stops along the way to meticulously recreate iconic images from Monroe’s career. There are certain scenes, in fact, where it’s hard to tell if you’re looking at De Armas’s version of Monroe or stock footage of the real woman, which only further adds to the disorienting effect that blond often achieves.

A technical triumph

Ana de Armas sits on a sofa like Marilyn Monroe in Netflix's Blonde.
Netflix, 2022

Dominik, who has always been prone to visual experimentation, also uses virtually every aspect ratio known to man around the world. blond. The film therefore not only repeatedly switches from pristine black and white photography to Technicolor photography, but also switches between 16:9 widescreen images and smaller 4:3 composites. Sometimes these instances of visual invention feel random, as if they exist solely to further disorient you and take you away from reality. At other times, they feel determined and calculated.

Look, for example, at how the film’s aspect ratio changes on the night Marilyn hopes to meet her long-lost father. The film briefly pans as Marilyn walks into her hotel room, reflecting the emotional importance she has attached to the moment. She then watches as the aspect ratio begins to shrink, the scope of the scene slowly diminishing, visually, once she realizes it’s not her father waiting for her, but Cannavale’s ex-player. Also watch as, in a moment of subtle but precise physical performance, Cannavale’s hand slowly circles de Armas’s neck as he professes her love for her, unknowingly her own body foreshadowing De Armas’s toxic and abusive future. her relationship.

Working with director of photography Chayse Irvin and editor Adam Robinson, Dominik also fills blond featuring some of the most artfully constructed dreamlike imagery you’ll see on film this year. One scene, in particular, comes early in blond and finds Norma Jeane de de Armas clinging to the edge of a bed in a moment of sexual ecstasy. As she does so, the sheets, spilling over the side of the bed, slowly and impossibly transform into Niagara Falls. Dominik then uses this moment to transition from a mid-afternoon date to a promotional trailer for the 1953 film noir gem, Niagara. Playing all these scenes, meanwhile, is The ethereal and otherworldly score by Nick Cave and Warren Elliswhich not only ranks as one of the best of the year, but also raises blondThe overwhelming tragic humor to cosmic heights.

A great lead performance

Netflix, 2022

in the center of blondAna de Armas’ many surreal images and nightmarish sequences, however, are Ana de Armas, whose performance as Marilyn Monroe feels perfectly calibrated for the film she’s in. blondbut like the film itself, there is an ever-present, often disturbing discontent between de Armas and the woman she plays.

Part of that has to do with de Armas’s real-life Cuban accent, which never fades even in the moments when the actress herself leans fully into Monroe’s breathy way of speaking. However, there is also a raw quality to de Armas’ performance, which not only rises to the top of blonda lot of emotionally difficult scenes, but it also permeates the moments where he’s re-enacting Monroe’s work in movies like some like it hot other Gentlemen prefer blondes with added touches of tragedy and rage.

Her performance allows de Armas to predictably outshine almost everyone else who appears in front of her in blond. Adrien Brody, however, leaves a sincere and calm impression with her portrayal of her in love with Arthur Miller, the celebrated playwright who became Monroe’s third husband. Together, Brody and de Armas create a palpable romantic warmth that permeates everything. blondThe most emotionally bright section, if not completely happy.

Ana de Armas makes her way through a screaming crowd in Netflix's Blonde.
Netflix, 2022

Like Marilyn, de Armas leaves almost nothing on the table, but the film demands too much of her and often fails to keep up. That is evidenced by the fact that there are simply too many scenes in blond — especially its second half — that require de Armas to be topless or completely nude, a detail that threatens to further underpin the oversexualization that has long plagued Monroe’s legacy. To communicate her inner longing and her loneliness, Dominik also has de Armas’s Monroe constantly refer to every man in his life as “daddy,” which is a decision that might have been tolerable if she had been. I would have used it a little more sparingly.

Less is more

De Armas’s frequent use of “dad” is ultimately a symptom of Dominik’s own inability to feel the moments when less would, in fact, be more. The same can be said for the multiple instances where Dominik’s camera reaches inside Monroe’s womb to show CGI versions of her unborn children as they speak to her (yes, literally). The film also features a handful of terrible music cues, including the moment when “Bye Bye Baby” starts playing seconds after De Armas’s Monroe has been forced to have an abortion she didn’t want.

These errors are just some of the imperfections that prevent blond to be as narratively and tonally successful as, say, Dominik’s directing effort in 2007, The murder of Jesse James by the cowardly Robert Ford. However, they are not heinous enough to represent blond a totally unsuccessful effort. In fact, Dominik still tells a moving story of loneliness, regret, and emotional longing with blonda film that feels less like an outlandish Hollywood dream and more like a nightmarish descent into a dark void.

BLONDE | Official Trailer | Netflix

The film achieves that effect every time it shifts its focus away from Monroe’s sex symbol status and more toward her merits as a performer and artist. In blondMonroe is both a young woman searching for the father figure she’s never known and a smart, talented artist who wants nothing more than to get as much as she gives. It goes without saying which of those aspects of blond‘s Marilyn proves more compelling, but the film’s occasionally uneven handling of its legacy doesn’t stop its ideas about celebrity — both the costs and the requirements — from ringing loud and clear.

in the end it is not blondMarilyn Monroe’s various tributes to Marilyn Monroe’s real-life career that happen to be her most fruitful moments. Instead, it’s the quieter scenes that end up leaving the biggest marks, like one that arrives late in the film and follows de Armas as he desperately searches his house for a tip only to find his delivery man long gone. a long time when she returns to give it to him. Pay attention in this scene to the way de Armas’s hand remains in the air, the five dollars still clenched in his palm, even after realizing that there is no one on the other side of the door. It’s a specific kind of heartbreak, realizing too late that you’ve yet to find someone willing to work as hard for you as you would for them.

blond is playing in select theaters now. It premieres Wednesday, September 28 on Netflix.

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