The biggest word of caution I could give for this film does not revolve around its frequent use of nudity and sex or its violence towards women, but rather that the film is more or less an expressed work of fiction. While some of this film is anchored in reality, there are very significant moments that are fabricated to an extent. This kind of story approach is pretty consistent with director Andrew Dominik, director of Chopper, Killing Them Softly, and that very long titled movie I like to reference but haven’t actually seen. Dominik dwells in the realm of the modern myth, taking these historical figures and somewhat stretching the truth. This approach makes a lot of sense considering the divide between what we know as fact and what we speculate and gossip about occurs constantly when speaking on any historical figure of the past.
Marilyn Monroe is no exception; she’s one of the most recognizable figures of Hollywood’s yesteryear who’s influence is still felt today in both style and fashion. But to the surprise of very few, Marilyn’s legacy is also garnished with shadows and tragedy. Time has certainly shed light on the truth of Marilyn’s suffering behind closed doors, and naturally this meant Hollywood would try to capitalize on it. Go figure. While there have been several interpretations of Marilyn’s life, Blonde stands to be one of the most accessible ones due to its easy availability through Netflix, and boy, isn’t that a damn shame.
Blonde is a typhoon of pain, pity and suffering that paints Marilyn’s career and struggles in an exaggerated light that, truthfully, does little for her legacy. Although stylistically interesting in its approach, the core of this film feels noticeably tasteless in its portrayal of the late actress, limiting her existence to nothing but her trauma which in turn removes much needed depth to the subject. People have hated this film since it hit the streaming platform. Let’s find out why.
We of course have to start with the blonde herself, portrayed by Ana de Armas. Usually these biopic films, regardless of their quality, can usually churn out a decent lead performance for its subject. De Armas is a competent actress and we get glimpses of her talent through some highly emotional and devastating scenes where she experiences loss, grief, humiliation, and sometimes a combination of all three. My issue is this is pretty much all we get from her. The character of Norma Jeane is so infantilized, so without agency of her own, that her helplessness and suffering borders on absurdity. Maybe this was the point, as the film opts to present her as a parody of a Greek tragedy, focusing on exaggerations of the truth to drive home heavy handed facts. Hollywood sucks. We know.
De Armas unfortunately brings little to the legacy of her subject, simplifying her down to her lowest points in her life. Not to say Marilyn’s actual life wasn’t a tragedy in itself, but this interpretation transforms her into a lightning rod of sorrow and pain that does little outside of repetitive gut punches. She feels like a conduit for heavy emotions rather than a fully realized character earning genuine sympathy. Granted she is reading from a script brimming with an intense lack of subtlety that makes it even harder to sympathize with such a caricature.
The film has strong visual moments when it delves into the surreal, using plenty of impressive techniques to give the film a genuine vintage feel in both black and white and under-saturated film. While impressive to look at, the visuals of the film tend to change at random with not a whole lot of rhyme or reason. There’s no real discernible pattern to this decision, and truthfully it got annoying to watch the color palette and the aspect ratio change so frequently. This could have been useful to differentiate time periods or which “identity” or Marilyn was in focus, but I couldn’t find any coherence in it.
Speaking on that “identity” the film makes it a point to focus on the “idea” of Marilyn Monroe, what the world sees her as, rather than the real person. But doing so creates such a disconnect for the audience because when we just see the “image”, it’s hard to create an emotional connection. We have an emotional response to seeing the hardships she faces, but I didn’t really feel anything for the character because she’s hardly a character. This film almost seems like it was done to spite the memory of Miss Monroe. She’s portrayed in such a way that draws little sympathy, with even its most heinous and shocking moments feeling cheap and exploitative. It shows a lack of respect or even care for the real person, whittling her down to her lowest periods with some of the most questionable narrative framing imaginable. Like, she has a full on conversation with her fetus, who blames her for getting an abortion prior in her life, which to my knowledge, did not happen.
And to those saying “it’s fiction, it’s fictionalized”, I ask, to what end? What is this doing for anyone? For Marilyn? For Hollywood? The director stated that his intention was to show how childhood trauma follows us into adulthood, and while that’s a genuinely interesting idea, the execution is so one note, so manipulative, so unnecessarily extreme for the sole point of being shocking. This type of semi-fictionalized storytelling can absolutely work, director Andrew Dominik’s own work is proof of this. But maybe it should be saved for subjects people didn’t actually like.
The Norma Jeane
Marilyn Monroe is without a doubt one of the most long standing icons of pulp culture despite her relatively short time spent in it. It’s no surprise to see many things adorned with her name, from roses, to champagne, to you guessed it; cocktails. There is a fairly popular drink named after the late star made with apple brandy, grenadine and champagne, and while it’s a fine drink in itself I wanted to add my own spin to it. Named after her birth name, the Norma Jeane plays into the luxuries of what may have driven her and hundreds of thousands of others to chase fame and fortune. Instead of grenadine I have instead opted to use sweet maraschino cherry syrup and built upon the desserty nature of the drink with some crème de cacao. It’s up front fruit notes are followed by the dryness of the champagne with the lingering flavor of chocolate left on your tongue. Hope it would have made her proud.
- 2oz Apple brandy
- 1/4oz Cherry syrup
- 1/2oz White crème de cacao
- Top: Champagne (chilled)
- Garnish: Maraschino cherries
- Add ingredients to a champagne flute and gently stir to combine.
- Garnish with maraschino cherries on a toothpick.