Blonde, the highly-anticipated reinterpretation of Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe’s life, is finally out on Netflix. And it can be debated whether Blonde makes for a good or a bad movie but one thing is for certain: it is bound to divide audiences.
Before you watch Blonde thinking you are in for a conventional biopic like this year’s Elvis, you will need some context.
For starters, director Andrew Dominik’s screenplay is based on a fictional novel that reinterprets Monroe’s life. Yes, in this film too, Monroe goes through troubled marriages and drug abuse but Domik’s direction incorporates fictional narratives and surreal metaphorical imagery to make his film more than just a biographical story. One can arguably call it an “anti-biopic”, much like last year’s Spencer that reimagined Princess Diana’s final days before she left the British Royal family.
Her words… #Blonde #BlondeNetflix 💔 pic.twitter.com/b5sibBD2oR— Kourtnee Monroe (@thekourtmonroe) September 28, 2022
Just like Spencer, Blonde meanders between a human drama and psychological horror. Right from the start, we are introduced to a young Norma Jeane being harassed and tortured by her mentally deranged mother (played by a menacingly terrific Julianne Nicholson).
Then, as she grows up to be the actor known as Marilyn Monroe, she faces constant moments of repressed frustration (that come out as nervous breakdowns in some scenes) as she encounters casting couch by sleazy Hollywood producers, constant objectification of her dumbed-down white characters by directors, and one troubled relationship after the other. These threats and their impact on Marilyn play out with atmospheric tension that is bound to haunt audiences.
Some sensitive moments touched upon in the film might not even have happened in the actress’s real life but her story does reflect the troubles that actresses might have gone through in that era (and even in today’s post-#MeToo times). But given that these real-life horrors go on throughout the entire film, it is worth questioning the director’s handling of these triggering issues.
#BlondeNetflix is distasteful. Even if it is a fictionalized story, there can be some care put towards the film. There is this emotional detachment from Marilyn Monroe that makes this such a dark and graphic film. It’s actually disturbing how exploitative this is. pic.twitter.com/Mk6fWHvUZi— manda 🍂 (@amxndareviews) September 21, 2022
One can argue that the point of the film is to showcase her hardships to evoke empathy for the woman beyond the big screen. But at the same time, the film’s graphic and explicit nature of exploring this trauma can also make one wonder if Dominik reinterprets her life just for the sake of ‘trauma porn’. Even if this is not the director’s intention, some of the abuse (both mental and physical) would come off as forced to viewers. Dominik has definitely succeeded in not making a conventional biopic that glorifies its subject matter but the end product definitely yields mixed results.
Incorporating a non-linear narrative and continuously changing the aspect ratio of the screen and the colour tones make Dominik tick off the quintessential tropes for an experimental biopic but these elements can eventually get frustrating when they keep on repeating like clockwork.
The surreality of it all peaks in some eccentric scenes that come out of nowhere. For instance, if Marilyn is to have a baby, the screen cuts from her expressions to a 3D render of an actual foetus. The unborn baby even starts talking to her in one scene! As stated earlier, such scenes are bound to polarise the audience. If some would find this to be visually rewarding experimentation, others would just downgrade it to arthouse pretentiousness.
Ideally, a film about a complex personality like Marilyn Monroe is bound to challenge the viewer's expectations. But even if the unconventional elements challenge viewers, this challenge comes at a patience-testing runtime of 2 hours and 46 minutes! (Remember, this is a Netflix film)
pic.twitter.com/Ik9rkrzUFH https://t.co/RSBFiABZWv— Limmy (@Limmmy__) September 28, 2022
Definitely not a watch for people who get frustrated with slow-burning dramas, Blonde could have probably been a way better film if it clocked at 90 minutes or 2 hours instead of playing out like a nearly 3-hour-long epic. After a point, the recurring motifs become too recurring and the average Netflix watcher would check how many minutes are left for the credits to roll. The last time Netflix have tested the patience of viewers like this was with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, a gangster drama that was highly acclaimed but again had its fair share of polarised audiences.
While the runtime and convoluted experimentation might be Blonde's biggest downfalls, the movie’s biggest strength is Ana de Armas as expected. While the actress gives her all to play Marilyn, her characterisation unfortunately seems to prevent her monologues and expressions from reaching the full potential. Given all the trauma she endures, Armas gets a healthy dose of “Oscar-baity” moments of melancholic frustration.
Ana de Armas as ‘Marilyn Monroe’ in @netflix’s BLONDE pic.twitter.com/QSjAPUg5W1— Ana de Armas Updates (@ArmasUpdates) September 28, 2022
Her interactions with other characters might come off as awkward but this awkwardness succeeds at establishing how the protagonist was misheard (or not heard at all) as both Norma Jeane and Marilyn Monroe. In this sense, Armas succeeds at capturing the voicelessness of Marilyn. A peak example is the first time she meets baseball player and future husband Joe DiMaggio (played by a cartoonish Bobby Cannavale). Even though they are getting to know each other, it is easy to sense the toxicity that is to follow.
Towards the second half, her marriage with playwright Arthur Clarke is also explored. While Adrian Brody doesn’t have much of a role, he does capture an effortless academic seriousness that suits his character. In fact, he even manages to steal the spotlight in some of the scenes that he shares with Armas.
Ana de Armas on Blonde: “I want to talk about taboos and uncomfortable things and figure out how we really feel about them. And I think telling stories is a beautiful way to do that.” Now on Netflix pic.twitter.com/sRlU9YJL0g— Netflix (@netflix) September 28, 2022
Marilyn’s husbands also reflect her “daddy issues” given that she is shown to seek a father figure all her life. This is reflected by her subservience to the men in her life and the way she refers to each of them as “Daddy”. An exception is Charlie Chaplin Jr, a starkid who wants to stray away from his famous father’s shadow and is way more caring toward Marilyn than the other men in the film (Monroe was indeed rumoured to have dated him for a brief while). Xavier Samuel shines in the role as Chaplin Jr with his dreamy eyes doing most of the talking.
So, naturally, a lot of Marilyn’s personal story is overshadowed by the various men (yes, even Kennedy). Still, Armas manages to cram in a few other emotional dilemmas of her character wherever she can.
But not even Armas’s naivety and tragic acting prowess can save Blonde from actually leaving an impact in the end. In fact, the third act’s unmemorable plot twist only makes the film seem more pointless. When the credits start rolling, there are high chances that the film has left you emotionally numb and drained out.
Lastly, Netflix had already cashed in on the Marilyn Monroe hype by dropping the investigative documentary series The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes in April this year. So, Netflix's latest experiment could have just been timed better.
We're going with 2 out of 5 for Blonde.