Movie Review: ‘Blonde’

Director: Andrew Dominik

Cast: Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Booby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, Julianne Nicholson, Evan Williams, Toby Huss, David Warshofsky

Plot: Norma Jeane Mortenson lives through one abusive relationship after another, from her mother to her husbands to the President himself, while maintaining the public image of her screen persona Marilyn Monroe.

Review: Ana de Armas is a star who has been on a consistent rise since first appearing in Hollywood a few years ago. Initially getting attention for roles in Knock Knock and Blade Runner 2049, and then earning critical praise for Knives Out and No Time to Die, it felt like she needed a solid leading role to really cement her as a bonafide star. As it happens, that role would involve playing the legendary movie star Marilyn Monroe. Unfortunately, that role is central in a film that feels like an endurance trail that many viewers are going to struggle to get through the almost three hour running time.

Things kick off with some heartbreaking scenes of Norma Jeane as a young girl (played by Lily Fisher), being told about a father who’s never going to appear and a mother completely unravelling due to unchecked and untreated mental illness. Seeing a mother endanger and outright attempt to harm her child is absolutely horrible, and it sets the tone for the rest of the movie-watching experience. Jumping ahead to her career as a pin-up model, we see her abuse at the hands of studio heads, her polyamorous relationship with Cass Chaplin Jr., Eddy Robinson Jr., her marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, failed attempts to conceive a child, sexual assault by JFK and an increasing addiction to drugs.

It sounds like we’re leaning heavily into the unpleasant aspects of the movie, but it does leave a bad taste in the mouth. Whatever the film-maker’s intention, it feels unnecessarily cruel and gratuitous. Scenes of forced abortions (the validity of which are questionable) are framed like scenes from a horror movie of the 70s, made all the more disturbing after several scenes of Norma Jeane talking to her unborn child in scenes that resemble a Massive Attack music video. Creating this scenario is bad enough, but putting audiences through it more than once through a nightmare sequence is overkill.

Many of the surreal, nightmare-inducing scenes of paranoia and the fear of public scrutiny are excellently and effectively constructed. Baying crowds with distended maws and a haunting score from music legends Nick Cave and Warren Ellis gives us genuine, shift-in-your-seat discomfort and comparisons to David Lynch are well deserved. Director Dominik shifts frequently between different colour styles and aspects ratios to reflect different phases of Norma Jeane’s life, the visual styles of the time and the lead character’s mental state. It’s not the most creative approach to a psychological thriller, but it’s very well executed and does not ever feel gimmicky. It makes for a great encapsulation of an era of entertainment that had long-standing influence over Hollywood for decades to come.

Amid all the critical sledging that Blonde has received, one consistent moment of praise is for the performance of Ana de Armas as Norma Jeane/Marilyn Monroe, emphasised by her nomination for Best Actress at the Oscars. This is well deserved, and it’s clear that she has put an enormous amount of time and effort into the role. She is absolutely phenomenal, and although the film’s reputation seems to be putting people off the experience we hope that this opens up more leading role opportunities for de Armas.

In an era where celebrity biopics are both frequent and formulaic, Blonde stands out as an experiment in creating a heightened reality that emphasises Marilyn Monroe’s life. It runs with the theories of film-makers of the Kino-Pravda school, using the medium of film to create the feeling of the events rather than sticking to the facts. It’s just a shame that they made the choice to replicate the experience of watching a torture porn movie.

Rating: SIX out of TEN