2022, NC-17, 166 min. Directed by Andrew Dominik. Starring Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Sara Paxton, Caspar Phillipson, Julianne Nicholson, Scoot McNairy, Rebecca Wisocky.
REVIEWED By Jenny Nulf, Fri., Sept. 23, 2022
Female celebrities are meant to be sexy, but sexless. They’re meant to be fantasized about in the bedroom, their exploitations kept behind closed doors and unbeknownst to the public, the angelic vision of beauty without the scandal of one-night stands. Marilyn Monroe was every American’s fantasy – a desirable beauty with a sublime balance of sex appeal and approachability, a “cool girl” of her time. Blonde seeks to destroy that perfect pinup and topple the pristine myth of Monroe’s celebrity.
The second adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates' 2000 novel, Blonde is in a way a spiritual sequel to director Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. In both films Dominik tackles obsession, fame, and immortalization after death. With Jesse James, he was able to invert the quintessential American male celebrity, an outlaw whose place in history texts was sealed the moment Ford shot him through the head. Monroe in Blonde proves to be more difficult for Dominik to crack. In his latest feature, he casts aside subtlety and ramps up the weirdness, creating a spectacle that’s designed to be uncomfortable, from excess topless shots of Monroe to talking CGI fetuses. Dominik’s towering ambition often gets in the way of cohesive storytelling, leaving a lot to be desired for large stretches of the film, but when all the cogs seem to match up together, Blonde packs a punch, a stab to the gut that rips to the core.
Blonde at times feels like a horror movie, with its uneasy sound editing and harsh lighting. The crackling of cameras flashing at movie premieres sounds like the flames that engulf L.A. the day her mother abandons her, and an abortion shot from the point of view of the fetus is reminiscent of something like the French extremity film Inside. Ana de Armas’ screeches as Monroe pierce throughout the film, a guttural cry to be felt. At a premiere, the audience’s faces seem to blur while she sinks into her seat uncomfortably, staring at herself on screen.
De Armas’ glossy, expressive eyes are a gateway into Monroe’s soul, a window into her fears. Blonde wants you to always remember that Monroe was a character, a fictionalized figment dreamed up by Norma Jeane, who eventually grew too big as the world started to fanatically consume her. It’s a breakdown of the traditional biopic, an attempt to put a mirror up to the fantasy that’s often craved by fans, and Monroe’s fans have stayed obsessed long after her death, idolized, protected, and beloved.
Where Dominik struggles with Blonde is the specific dissection of the female mind in fame. While perhaps not purposefully misogynistic, the Freudian nature of Norma Jeane’s desires feels ripped from a film student’s essay. The aforementioned talking fetus, while extremely bold, comes across disturbingly pro-life, and every time Norma Jeane calls a man in her life “Daddy” it’s eye-roll inducing. And yet perhaps these obtuse instances work, because when de Armas’ performance is given the space to be quiet and chilling, Blonde suddenly hits, and what once felt hollow feels painfully visceral.