Arriving after months and months of hype, Blonde is director Andrew Dominik’s fantastical biopic of Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe. It takes some very big swings, and aside from a strong performance by Ana de Armas as Marilyn, it misses almost all of them.
Blonde, which lands in theaters this week and on Netflix next week, is long, slow, boring, and in no way justifies its running time of two hours and 40 minutes. It doesn’t make much of an attempt to tell the story factually, and the liberties it takes with the truth make little sense.
And the main things that it has to say about Marilyn Monroe — that she was treated catastrophically badly by pretty much everyone in her life over the course of many years, that her lack of a father is the skeleton key that unlocks the key to understanding her, and that the press was terrible to her — don’t depart appreciably from the general understanding of Monroe and her history, including from past biopics. I mean, Elton John wrote a popular song saying all the same things in 1973, and they had likely all been said even before that.
The movie is based on a 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates, which told a heavily fictionalized tale of Monroe’s brief life. The book invented various fantastical things, some of which the movie has retained. Hollywood historians are going to have a conniption, especially about the presumably made-up-out-of-whole-cloth-by-Oates idea that the young Monroe was part of a throuple with Edward G. Robinson, Jr. and Charlie Chaplin, Jr. Adding to the head-scratching, Robinson and Chaplin are played by actors who look almost exactly alike.
The film begins with Monroe’s childhood as Norma Jeane, raised by an alcoholic and mentally ill mother (Julianne Nicholson) from whom she is taken away at a young age. Soon after, she’s in Hollywood, acting out the Monroe arc that we all know, including her relationships with Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller, and John F. Kennedy. There are also rapists and molesters around just about every corner in Hollywood, a detail that I don’t doubt was true.
Ana de Armas is very good in the role, probably her best performance ever. She pulls off the look and the clothes, and I stopped noticing her Cuban accent after about 10 minutes.
Bobby Cannavale plays DiMaggio in perhaps the worst miscasting of an iconic real-life figure in recent history, although Adrien Brody is much better as Miller. As if to hammer home the film’s never-ending father-figure thesis, she addresses just about every man as “Daddy.” (A device involving letters from her father is one of many conceits in the movie that don’t work as well as they should.)
There’s also the film’s weird, weird treatment of pregnancy, abortion, and miscarriage, which features some truly odd moments, including the already controversial “vagina point-of-view shot,” which not only isn’t quite what it sounds like but also is not the first one in cinema history by any stretch.
Blonde is famously the first majority-streaming movie to receive an NC-17 rating. This is thanks to frequent nudity, a couple of sex scenes consensual and not, and a graphic miscarriage scene.
Its’ a pretty common thing for movies with nudity to be billed ahead of time as the most shockingly sexual movie of all time, only to not really be that once the movie arrives. It already happened this year with a different Ana de Armas movie, Deep Water.
Dominik, the director, began his career with the fine Chopper in 2000, although I’ve always found his subsequent film, 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, wildly overrated, and just as slow and boring as Blonde. I am a fan, though, of his 2012 crime film Killing Them Softly, the movie where James Gandolfini says “There’s no ass in the whole world like a young Jewish girl who’s hooking.”
Aside from the 2016 Nick Cave documentary One More Time With Feeling, this is Dominik’s first film in the ten years since Killing Them Softly.
The film utilizes various gimmicks, including switching between color and black and white, as well as aspect ratios that switch throughout the movie. The aspect ratio thing has become something of a fashionable gimmick of late, but if you ask me the next time that trick makes sense will be the first.
I give Blonde credit for ambition, but it ultimately doesn’t work at all.