You’d have to search long and hard to find somebody who doesn’t know of Marilyn Monroe, but Norma Jeane? That’s another story. That is what Blonde explores (or should I say exposes) as it takes a fictional dive into the life of both the woman we knew in front of the camera and the one we knew very little of away from it.
Director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) focuses on adapting the novel of the same name written by Joyce Carol Oates, which explores Marilyn’s life but imagines and rearranges many of its story components whilst blending the details with historical facts. This is not your typical biopic. This doesn’t celebrate the life of Marilyn but instead arguably cheapens it with scenes of rape, abortion, child abuse and regular accounts of sexual assault. It’s in these moments that portray Marilyn in this vulnerable state that has caused a huge divide in Dominik’s direction with many calling it disingenuous and dishonourable.
Although difficult to do, separating the story and its harsh themes from its visual display and strong production department is where you can find something positive to take away from Blonde. Jumping from black and white to colour, switching aspect ratios, and demonstrating a positive display of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood filmmaking. It takes some interesting directional decisions, but when it gets it right Blonde is made all the better for it.
The other aspect in which Blonde cannot be faulted is in the performances being turned in. Ana de Armas in particular, is a tour de force. Playing both Norma and Marilyn with such a likeness that it feels a shame that the story couldn’t rise to the occasion alongside her. She’s had a lot of work over the years with Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Knives Out (2019) and even a short role in last year’s No Time to Die, but Blonde really forces the best out of the rising star. With that being said, only time will tell whether this is the role people will want to remember her for, or the one that people will want to forget.
There’s been such an influx in biopics coming out over the last few years with the likes of Elvis, Freddie Mercury and Elton John all having their stories told to wide audiences, but none quite take the deviations of truth that Blonde does. As a matter of fact, Blonde feels more anti-biopic with its heavily factual based execution. This is why audiences are having such a hard time coping with it.
It’s unlikely to be beaten this year in controversy or divisiveness. So, if nothing else that is what Blonde has managed to achieve. If you’re a lover of Marilyn and her work, then the negative nature in which her life is fantasised here will likely be too much to bare.
These events play out more like a neo-noir nightmare that strictly focuses upon the most traumatic experiences in Norma’s life, and ironically sexualises her as much as she was throughout her career whilst doing it. Dominik’s Blonde baffles with its bizarre narrative choices but provides stunning visuals with editing and cinematography being the rare highlights thoughout.
Be warned, Blonde isn’t the movie you think it is and certainly not the one that was marketed. Its near three-hour runtime can feel like a chore, especially with its darker themes and story beats occupying most of it. But if you can brave that then you’re rewarded with an exceptional star performance by Ana de Armas, a strong production and set design and plenty of solid directional choices that are still likely to receive awards buzz.