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Ladies and gentlemen, Blonde, starring Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody and Bobby Cannavale is not going to go down in history as one of the definitive films about Marilyn Monroe. It's based on Joyce Carol Oates's fictional book about Monroe which she said herself was not a 'biography'. No kidding. That sadly is all the ammunition Blonde needs to blur more and more fiction with loose or made-up facts.
It's not the fault of Ana de Armas, who spookily looks, breathes and talks like Monroe and does her best with a degrading script. The problem is we never see Marilyn triumph as the star of The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Some Like It Hot, or entertaining the troops in Korea, not once.
Where is the magnetism or her greatest work of art - herself? A Hollywood silver-screen goddess fashioned from her imagination and her childhood trips to the movies to escape the unhappiness and insecurity she felt growing up with foster parents and in an orphanage because her mother had been hospitalised with schizophrenia.
Blonde is a one-way ticket to hell, dressed up to be something it isn't; an intelligent film about the devastating effects of childhood insecurity, poverty and then the white heat of fame and trying to be perfect. If Andrew Dominik wanted to really tell Marilyn Monroe's story, why doesn't he give her more agency? Marilyn herself made the most interesting and thoughtful comments on what her life was like and how she truly felt.
Norma Jeane invented her screen persona to be the consummate dream girl. The eternal, breathless agent provocateur in diamonds and pearls or Chanel No 5, even now, more than sixty years after her untimely death we cannot forget her. However, you wouldn't think that if you watch this cruel, miserable film.
In fact, this critic considers it to be a thoroughly nasty, bleak, one-sided and exploitative film that trashes Norma Jeane Mortenson, the orphan who became a global film icon; ushered in the sexual revolution and became one of the most talked about and inspirational women of her age.
In Blonde, Marilyn Monroe is reduced to the status of a victim and utter failure in life. That means everything from her work ethic and her film legacy to her marriages and her heartbreaking attempts to become a mother.
As for the talking foetus, are you trying to put back women's reproductive rights by centuries, not decades? These scenes are inflammatory given the recent defeat of Roe v Wade.
This film is another insult, after the extraordinary levels of chauvinism and insults Monroe faced in fifties America. At a time when Good Housekeeping instructed women to wait on their husbands when they got home from work, to have supper ready and not to bore them with any details about their own needs or desires. And yet, Marilyn dared to defy the status quo and say she had never been kept by a man and she dared to say that sex was the foundation of everything, especially art and culture. She also told her Hollywood bosses that she wanted better roles, equal pay and more control over her public image.
As a result, Marilyn faced extraordinary levels of scrutiny, criticism and media speculation that can only be matched by the media hysteria surrounding Princess Diana.
So it goes on. Now, in 2022, Blonde is a car crash film. A film that sensationalises the torment in the star's life, which we already know about. The only good thing I can say about it is that Ana de Armas is a fine actress who can act like Monroe, (when given the chance), which is spooky, but crucially without the star power or magnetism that Marilyn Monroe perfected herself to transform her life. Here she is utterly diminished, small, fragile and tormented all the time.
It's horrible to watch. Surely, in the 21st Century we could make an intelligent film that examines the awful things that happened to Norma Jeane in her early life in the context of her breakout film roles, her Golden Globe for Sugar in Some Like it Hot, for winning her battle with Fox Studios and as a fierce trailblazer for women? Where is our fearless, smart, intelligent Marilyn? The goddess of witty one-liners such as - 'It's Not True I Had Nothing On, I had the Radio On' or 'Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.'
Why? Because it doesn't suit Andrew Dominik's narrative as its director and screenwriter. Like Spencer, which I found equally unwatchable and plain silly, we get a fashionably emotive and disturbingly voyeuristic film supposedly focused on showing the internal suffering that Marilyn experienced like Princess Diana. The problem is that the result is unwatchable.
An entire part of her life is missing, the successful part.
Blonde is grotesque, boring and one-dimensional. No one's life is that black and white. Nor are the hard times set in a historical context. Her life is served up as a waking nightmare from her traumatic childhood to her death at 36. For three grim and depressing hours, we are served a diet of misery and degrading sexual exploitation, chauvinism and brutality that robs Monroe of her power and her triumph over adversity.
Like so many writers and journalists before him, Andrew Dominik has ruthlessly chosen only to focus on Joyce Carol Oates's fictional, darkly imagined story of Marilyn's life and denies her talent, intelligence or success which makes her story extraordinary, complex and inspirational.
There is one area where Dominik does succeed in exploring one of the great challenges for any film icon or public figure. The relentless treadmill of fame and having to live with the slings and arrows of being very famous and living in full view of the pubic and the press.
The cinematography is superb at showing the febrile nature of celebrity, and the rapacious media and some of Monroe's most iconic moments are faithfully and painstakingly recreated, including the celebrated publicity stunt for The Seven Year Itch with the billowing white sunray pleated dress and playing in the California surf in her cardigan.
But damn it, so much rubbish has been written about Marilyn since her death, that her legacy needs to be re-examined and repaired. Norman Mailer, the macho and much-celebrated writer, even admitted to making up outrageous scenes and dialogue about Monroe that perpetuated the idea that she was an epoch-defying, man-eating femme fatale, who might even have colluded in murder. It was completely made up. Perhaps he was confused by her convincing portrait as an accomplice to murder in the film noir Niagra. The problem is that this becomes part of popular mythology and the next moment it is the gospel truth.
Why would any Marilyn Monroe fan or film buff want to watch a film that doesn't show her successes or how she stood up to the Hollywood studio system alongside her struggles with confidence and perfectionism and the culpability of her doctors who got her hooked on pills for anxiety and insomnia?
It comes back to the age-old double standards. A woman who becomes powerful and celebrated cannot be sexy and provocative and be taken seriously and allowed to shine.
So, we barely see a glimpse of Marilyn the star as the magnetic comic, singing, dancing and ukulele-playing wonder woman in Some Like It Hot with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon; the consummate showgirl of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Jane Russell or as Cherie in Bus Stop where she finally has the opportunity to flex her skill at comedy and tragedy and won the respect of its director, Joshua Logan who compared her to Charlie Chaplin.
Instead, we get three harrowing hours of attempted infanticide, rape, brutality and humiliation.
Where is Norma Jeane smiling at the camera and doing cartwheels on the beach? How can any writer or director make an authentic film about Marilyn and not show how she went from washing dishes for forty cents in the orphanage to becoming a hardworking forces pinup star, film goddess and producer in just ten years? At the same time, she also became a trailblazer for women by talking about making her own money and running her own film company in order to achieve equal pay with her male co-stars.
Today, Marilyn would undoubtedly be diagnosed with PTSD and with the right help, love and support, she would have received psychotherapy for the trauma she experienced as a child and she could have recovered. Just think how much good she could have done if she had lived to speak out about making children's lives better and teaching men to be allies to women.
Sadly, this film does absolutely nothing to celebrate Marilyn Monroe's legacy as one of the greatest actors of the 20th Century, and a force of nature to boot. In fact, it seems to be hellbent on destroying that talent. The director goes out of his way to obliterate Marilyn's ability to shine on screen. Notice how he only shows her meltdowns or insecurity, never the moments where she was inviolable.
The film is excruciating to watch, with one or two interesting ideas. Anna de Armas could have done so much more as Marilyn if she had been allowed to show every shade of Monroe and to show her at her best, not just her worse.
In life, Marilyn was smart, funny, ahead of her time and had a burning instinct for self-improvement. She excelled at English and wrote for the school newspaper. Later she took classes in literature at UCLA and devoured the books she had not had the chance to read in school. In order to create the persona of Marilyn Monroe, she studied other great actresses including the actress she admired so much as a child, Jean Harlow.
Why don't we see this fascinating journey and metamorphosis?
What is most profoundly upsetting is how director and writer Dominik has so profoundly reduced Marilyn to a fragile, ghostly shadow of her screen image and the image that she projected to the world at large.
It is a matter of public record that Marilyn had a tragic, insecure and difficult childhood.
So show us something different.
What the film ruthlessly doesn't examine is how hungry the young Marilyn was to succeed in life and to be a success. Instead, we are treated to scenes of debauchery and abortion as the film sets the narrative by focusing on an entirely fictional menage a trois between Monroe, Charlie Chaplin Junior and Edward G Robinson.
Yep, it didn't happen.
However, if you want to trash the legacy of one of the greatest and most remarkable female film icons of the 20th Century, with a relentlessly grim diet of child abuse, rape, abortions, humiliation and misogyny this is how you do it.
How interesting it would be to see Marilyn's rounded journey from the girl who left behind an insecure and tragic early life to becoming a model, Hollywood starlet, film icon and businesswoman; what we see is only Marilyn the victim in a dark world full of cruel and violent men who all appear to hate women.
Does that include its director and producers too?
The door is wide open for a director and writer to look at Marilyn Monroe in a new way and tell a story worthy of her life, her film legacy and as one of the most remarkable women of the 20th Century.
Alison Jane Reid - October 2022
Iconic Journalism 1992 - 2022
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Blonde is Streaming on Netflix and is showing in selected cinemas from September 23rd 2022.
This long-form in-depth review took two and a half days to research, write and polish.
Reviews will now be released to paid subscribers first. Spread the word and tell your cultured and discerning friends about The Luminaries Magazine and join our world here. Subscribe to The Luminaries Magazine.
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