Bombshell, sex symbol, and comedic actress: through the 50s and early 60s, Marilyn Monroe was one of the most successful Hollywood starlets, and since her death in 1962, she remains one of the most iconic film stars. Even to this day, it’s nearly impossible to walk through a college dorm and not see a picture or poster of the blonde beauty in at least half the rooms.
Netflix’s “Blonde” has a lot of pretty and artsy shots that highlight Marilyn’s glamor and her status as a sex symbol, but the movie lacks depth and favors stylish cinematography over actual substance. If you want a story that explores the complexities of Marilyn’s life and successful career, “Blonde” probably isn’t for you. However, if you want a movie with many scenes featuring a beautiful (often topless) woman decked out in some of Monroe’s best looks, look no further than this mess of a film.
Directed by Andrew Dominik and based on the 1980 biographical fiction by Joyce Carol Oates, the story follows Monroe from her early childhood days, when she was still Norma Jeane and living with her mentally ill and abusive mother, through her modeling career, rise to stardom, marital troubles, and addiction issues that led to her death. At nearly 3 hours and rated NC-17, “Blonde” manages to move too fast, skipping over the exciting parts of Monroe’s career, yet too slow at the same time.
My main issue with “Blonde” is that it paints Monroe simply as a victim, and while there isn’t a need to sugarcoat the horrible things that did happen to her, she was much more than just a tragic figure. She faced many hardships, but she overcame a lot to become one of the most successful and well-known film stars of all time. Monroe was a well-read businesswoman who cared about civil rights. Throughout her career, she had to deal with powerful men in Hollywood who either wanted to repress her or force her into the dumb, ditsy, blonde box when she wanted to be taken more seriously. The movie does show some brief reenactments of Monroe’s performances in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “Some Like It Hot,” and “The Seven Year Ich,” but a more interesting film could have dug deeper into her acting process.
It’s important to note that while this movie does claim to be based on Monroe’s life, it is also a work of fiction. However, if the film is going to use Monroe’s name and add fictionalized events to the narrative-like a throuple between Marilyn, Charlie “Cass” Chaplin Jr., and Edward G. Robinson Jr- why use her name then? The movie could have simply been a cautionary tale about a fictionalized actress. Many blonde bombshells in old Hollywood, Jean Harlow, Jayne Mansfield, and Grace Kelly, lived complex, glamorous, often tragic lives that were cut short, but for some reason, Monroe’s story seems like the one everyone wants to try to tell.
While many aspects of the film were fictionalized, some rang truer to real life. Monroe’s second husband, Joe DiMaggio, was controlling and abusive, and she did suffer multiple miscarriages during her second marriage. The film doesn’t explore what Monroe could have possibly been feeling during these times or how she was still able to balance such a successful career through all her personal struggles. For most of the movie, we are simply gazing at this beautiful woman looking wide-eyed, sad, and way too empty.
As Marilyn, Ana de Armas does what she can with the role, but the script is so shallow, and most of her performance consists of pouting and looking sad. Monroe was known for having an innocence to her, but the film and lead actress’s performance suggest that she consistently talked like a baby (I cringed every time she referred to one of her husbands as “Daddy,” which was quite often). On another note, the lead performance received a rare double nomination. Armas received a nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards (which is surprising, but she’s also been campaigning really hard) and Worst Actress at The Golden Raspberries (which is a parody award show for worst of cinematic underachievements).
I’ve spent most of this review trashing this movie, but despite feeling exploitative and unnecessarily provocative, parts of the film are pretty to look at. As Monroe, Armas is gorgeous, and if “Blonde” were a really long musical or photo shoot, she would be a perfect choice. Overall, I’m disappointed in the lack of depth in representing Monroe’s iconic and complex life and career. The film is confusing because it claims to be some profound and provocative look into Monroe’s life, but “Blonde” feels like a fantasy of who Marilyn was, and it’s hard to tell if the people involved with the film even respect the actress at all.
According to Armas, before making “Blonde,” the cast and crew of the film visited Marilyn’s grave with a card asking permission to tell her story. May I suggest that everyone involved with making “Blonde” march back to her grave and beg for forgiveness?