Netflix’s new Marilyn Monroe movie makes the streamer’s recent Jeffrey Dahmer series look like Toy Story in comparison: Blonde is basically an unintended horror movie—an overlong, sluggish, incoherent, shamelessly bad horror movie.
Blonde is a way, way, way, too dark, dismal, esoteric and eccentric take on the exploitation of Marilyn Monroe, wasting a mostly impressive performance by Ana de Armas. Armas, a talented actress, was a slam-dunk casting choice, looking and sounding (most of the time) like Monroe. Too bad she’s dropped into a film that betrays her at nearly every turn.
Director Andrew Dominik is a visual master. His The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Killing Them Softly are strong, good-looking movies. One would think the story of Marilyn Monroe could’ve propelled something special from him—but instead, we get shots of Marilyn throwing up in a toilet bowl. Let me clarify: We get hazy, artsy, POV, black-and-white shots of Marilyn throwing up on our faces, as if we were peering up from inside the toilet bowl. So, in this movie, Marilyn Monroe basically barfs in your face. I’m guessing there’s a deep, allegorical meaning to this sort of staging, but I laughed for all of the wrong reasons.
If you are going to make a movie about how Marilyn Monroe was exploited, you might try to do that without exploiting the actress playing the title role. Alas, De Armas spends a good chunk of this movie naked and/or covered in blood. Like I said, parts of it play like a bad horror movie. It’s chock-full of bloody miscarriages and scary abortions, the aforementioned barf-in-your-face, and repeated rape scenes. This is all done with very little reference to actual history, and a lot to do with blown-out-of-proportion impressions on how society failed this person. (The film is based on Joyce Carol Oates’ fictionalized novel about Monroe.)
This is a movie in which John F. Kennedy clearly (and violently) rapes Marilyn Monroe in a hotel room. (There’s no proof whatsoever that this ever came close to happening.) It’s a movie where she’s having threesomes with the sons of Edward G. Robinson and Charlie Chaplin (never happened), getting beaten mercilessly by Joe DiMaggio (probably happened) and trying to scratch her face off after a take she didn’t like. (I will venture a guess this is a stretch given this film’s “truth” track record.)
Some of these “events” are based on rumors and speculation, yet Blonde presents them as truth—or, you know, artsy-fartsy “meditations” on the truth, where some artistic license is supposed to be allowed, because it’s a movie. From the point of the filmmakers, JFK treated Marilyn Monroe horribly as a love interest, so he might as well have raped her, so depicting him raping her is just an artistic extension of that symbolic speculation, right? That’s some fucked up shit right there.
Armas is very good in the role, with her physical likeness uncanny in some sequences. Her accent blasts through at times, so much so that you wonder if it’s intentional, with Dominik messing with the audience’s head by blurring the line between the historical character and the performer playing her. These sequences are odd, because in the rest of the film, she sounds very Marilyn.
Blonde is rated NC-17, but there’s nothing in here I saw that should have pushed the movie out of R territory—although it’s so torturous that perhaps somebody was trying to protect minors from such a miserable experience.
Many Hollywood men in the ’50s and ’60s were dopey pigs, and they certainly didn’t make life easy on the besieged Monroe—but alcohol and pills have killed many people in that particular industry, and they most certainly played a part in the death of Monroe. They contributed mightily to her misery up until the point the Kennedys had her killed, if you believe that shit. Blonde pushes her unfortunate substance abuse into the background.
Blonde also takes the idea that Monroe had been searching for her father her entire life and blows that up in a way that feels fake. Yes, Monroe died at 36 and had plenty of issues, but she did become world-famous before burning out. Surely, there was some magic, power and intelligence in her that got her to the top before she went off the rails, yet the film basically portrays her as a mess and a victim from the start.
There’s definitely room for a biopic that takes a strong, painful look at a life that ended far too early and featured many forms of abuse, both external and self-inflicted—but this certainly is not it. Dominik’s horribly misguided cinematic jerkoff is not the movie Monroe, or de Armas, deserved.
Blonde is now streaming on Netflix.