Movie Review: Blonde

Blonde is a long-awaited Marilyn Monroe biographical drama starring Ana de Armas from the mind of Andrew Dominik, the writer-director behind The Assassination of Jessie James, Chopper and Killing Them Softly. Known for his artful, poetic and stylistic portraits, often biographical in nature, his latest film Blonde is an adaptation of a fictional account of Marilyn Monroe’s inner life by Joyce Carol Oates. While open to dramatic license, the story is reflective of reality, touching on key moments and relationships in her life – making it useful to have a semblance of her life’s story.

Playing like a stream of consciousness as images and events free-flow in chronological order, the pacing, cinematography and performances give Blonde an immersive and surreal quality. Dominik essentially creates a series of portraits to encapsulate each chapter, so there’s very little spoon-feeding in terms of explaining characters or mining important relationship dynamics. Already a sea of colour and light, this adaptation of a fictional chronicle makes it even trickier to know the players with a sees-sawing Monroe as Blonde’s golden thread. As beautiful as it is to behold, it’s useful to have a broad outline of her background, rise to fame, career highlights and significant relationships. For those unfamiliar with Monroe’s shooting star journey, The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes offers a solid foundation.

A Hollywood icon and sex symbol, immortalised by Andy Warhol and admired by millions across the globe, Marilyn Monroe’s story is everything that is triumphant and tragic about Tinseltown. A place where dreams can and do come true, it’s no wonder David Lynch’s dark imaginings in Mulholland Drive also reverberate in its shadows. Monroe’s difficult childhood, personal dualities, untimely death and high profile relationships still linger… giving the late star mystique. While typically celebrated for her best performances, role as a Hollywood bombshell and career-defining moments, Blonde offers a fairly sleazy retrospective of Monroe’s legacy.

Blonde is far from a rosy recollection – tearing the carpets up to offer a more tormented view of the superstar’s festering anguish and mental breakdown. Much like Judy, the drama doesn’t shy away from Hollywood’s underbelly, depicting a system rife with abuse of power, double standards and document’s Marilyn’s most tempestuous and unhealthy relationships. Blonde preoccupies itself with Monroe’s difficulty in dealing with abandonment issues relating to her absent father, separating her life as Norma Jeane from her on-screen persona and deep-seated fears around bringing her own child into the world. As beautiful, silky and immersive as it is, Blonde’s counterbalanced by ugliness owing to its dirty laundry fascination and deconstruction of the celebrity’s allure, further tarnishing the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.

blonde marilyn monroe film

“So, is it true what they say about gentlemen?”

The poetic “biopic” hinges on a defiant and almost unrecognisable performance from Ana de Armas who’s supported by Bobby Cannavale, Adrien Brody and Caspar Phillipson as unnamed derivatives of Joe DeMaggio (The Ex-Athlete), Arthur Miller (The Playwright) and John F. Kennedy Jr. (The President). In spite of an excellent lead performance from de Armas, an actor experiencing her own meteoric rise to fame, wisps of her Cuban accent are still evident even after postproduction audio effect manipulation and there’s an eeriness in trying to blend de Armas with actual footage of Monroe. Sadly, in trying to denounce the exploitation at the heart of the system, Blonde stumbles over its own prickly and awkward hypocrisy as history seemingly repeats itself.

Struggling to find its way to screen with several actors attached to star over the course of a decade, the long-awaited film is plagued by this exploitative undercurrent and a distracting anti-abortion conversation with an unborn child. Checking in at almost 3 hours, the poetry of the striking visuals, elegance of the artful treatment and compelling performances go a long way to making the surreal Blonde bearable, but it’s gritty appeal is thwarted by its appetite for dirty laundry, bleak tribute and prickly, hypocritical undertones.

Masquerading as a biopic, Blonde will infuriate lifelong fans of the late Marilyn Monroe with its irreverent vibrations and possibly alienate those unfamiliar with the bombshell’s Hollywood legacy. In trying to expose the system and play into timely themes around the #MeToo movement, Blonde inadvertently falls into the same cesspit. Having reportedly cut a significant portion of sexual content, the drama still has an unsettling effect with little left to the imagination. Blonde sullies Monroe’s name as an unflinching retrospective of fame and misfortune. The film’s dreamlike visual styling has poise but offers an artful yet bleak portrait, essentially reducing Monroe’s life story to a cautionary tale about a slow-creeping mental deterioration caused by the duress of stardom, unhealthy relationships and daddy issues.

The bottom line: Unsettling

splingometer 5