REVIEW: Blonde (2022)

Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in BLONDE — PHOTO: NETFLIX.

Directed by Andrew Dominik — Screenplay by Andrew Dominik.

One of the most controversial films of 2022, Andrew Dominik’s Blonde is based on the Joyce Carol Oates’ biographical fiction novel of the same name about the life of American actress and icon Norma Jeane, better known as Marilyn Monroe (played by Ana de Armas). Dominik’s film follows her from a troubled childhood to her suicide after years of stardom, mood disorders, and public relationships.

Ambitious. Bold. Damaging. Experimental. Exploitative. Fascinating. Jaw-dropping. Misguided. Painful. Powerful. Stomach-churning. Torturous. Unsubtle. Well-shot. –What a strange hotchpotch of a film.

Frankly, in spite of the fact that this was once one of my most anticipated films (I like Dominik’s earlier work quite a bit), I decided to skip this once it was finally released several months ago. The toxic word-of-mouth made me unprepared to want to see it for so long. But given that Ana de Armas was recently nominated for an Oscar for this film, it felt like the right time to finally dive in and see it for what it is and not what it has been described as. Ultimately, I think all of the reactions are fair. I don’t think it is entirely fair to make this kind of exploitative film about a widely celebrated icon who isn’t here to defend themselves. I also think the unsubtle nature of it and the specific unmentionable tragic repeated moments in it are both stomach-churning and uncomfortable. Dominik didn’t need to make the film this way, and I can understand why people are so vehemently against the film.

I can also see why the vocal minority like it. It is a fascinating work of an auteur. Yes, it often looks absolutely amazing. Yes, Ana de Armas is really good in it (in spite of any doubts that you may or may not have had about any difficulties with nailing the accent). I’m glad Ana de Armas — an underappreciated actress who deserves to get to work with tremendous scripts — was recognized for throwing herself at this part. As someone who is so impressed by both Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and his Killing Them Softly, it disappoints me that this didn’t end up as the celebrated masterwork that I thought Netflix’s carte blanche would result in, and, even still, I am impressed by elements of the film. I’m just not sure of the director’s intentions and that’s frustrating. In a widely cited interview conducted by Christina Newland, Dominik was quick to note that the film isn’t about Norma Jeane but rather Joyce Carol Oates’ meaning of Marilyn Monroe. You might say that this is fair given that it is an adaptation of biographical fiction, but I’m not sure that is a message that gets across in a film that may perhaps always be cited as ‘one of the primary or definitive films about Marilyn Monroe.’ I feel like you should treat your film’s subject with more care when she was a real, living, breathing person rather than shift blame, which such a statement can certainly be read like.

Ultimately, I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it again. Whether or not it tells the true story, I’m not sure either, but it’s such a tragic and torturous portrait that it’s hard to really look at without feeling the pain that permeates it from minute one. Nevertheless, I think both the person Norma Jeane and the icon Marilyn Monroe deserve better than what this film ultimately is. I hope Norma Jeane’s life was full of love and joy and not as unbearably tragic as it has been depicted here. With love, rest in peace.

6 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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