A sex exploit of Marilyn Monroe’s life is coming to Netflix. Andrew Dominik writes and directs Blonde, a historical psychological drama based on a 2000 novel written by Joyce Carol Oates. This film is a fictional look at the life of Norma Jeane Mortenson, or as the world knows her, Marilyn Monroe. A searing look at the treatment of one of Hollywood’s most iconic sex symbols results in a fantastic tale of a tall tale that is sure to polarize audiences as to the morality of it all.
Blonde has received considerable attention for its NC-17 rating. This is a rare occurrence and one that feels only partially justified. Despite the reasonable fear that accompanies a film of this rating, it received a 14-minute standing ovation at its premiere at the Venice Film Festival – an indicator of its effect on its audience. The film opens with Monroe in her iconic white dress, standing on the subway grate in all her glitz and glamour. However, this production is not a showcase for her success; instead, it’s a showcase for her pain and suffering, and it never lets up.
Opening with a look at Monroe’s tragic childhood with a mentally unstable mother, Dominik gives you an immediate clue that this film is going to be hard to watch. While some have criticized the film for being uncomfortable and painful to witness, that was certainly the intention behind this film and it is very effective. Parts of Blonde wants you to cover your eyes as you can’t bear to witness the brutality of it all, but Dominik handles the scenes well for the most part. His directorial style is exquisite, switching between image formats, black and white and color to create a completely original experience.
Blonde shows the sexualization Monroe faced in Hollywood at a time when her sex appeal was all the world could see. It explores how men in the industry never treated her with respect and how the world’s perception of her in general was blissfully ignorant of everything that happened to her behind the scenes. Dominik does an excellent job of writing Monroe’s emotions, showing how the blonde bombshell pop culture icon was a facade for the cameras that differed greatly from Norma Jeane Mortenson. In addition, the film depicts the pay gap between her and her co-stars and everything that goes through her head in this dramatized illustration of her psyche.
Ana de Armas is a tour de force in Blonde. After being criminally underutilized in The gray man earlier this year she delivers on all levels with a powerhouse of a performance. This performance is commendable as she looks and sounds the part showing every expression of pain on her face. This is a tragic, upsetting role where she knocks it out of the park. While the well-cast Hollywood biopic has been on the rise recently, none quite like this one. She and every supporting cast member are at the top of their game, and Dominik gives the best performance of all.
The aspect of this film that may rub a lot of people the wrong way is the nudity. De Armas has many naked scenes in it Blonde, which some might see as an exploitation of her sexuality. As a result, some would say the film commits the very exploitation it seeks to condemn. That said, I never saw the nudity in this film as an example of the male gaze, nor did I feel that Dominik was unduly sexualizing de Armas’ body. Many scenes with de Armas’ naked body are not intended to arouse the audience. Instead, the nudity feels like an expression of her vulnerability amidst her trials and tribulations.
While the film can sometimes feel like it’s reveling in trauma and occasionally seems akin to lousy porn, Dominik knows when to pull back and not fully show the more graphic instances of assault. He makes a film with artistic stylistic choices, supported by a well-written script full of details that allow the audience to sympathize with her. The main problem with Blonde is how it never steps back to focus on any of Monroe’s accomplishments or intelligence. Instead, it sometimes feels like her entire life is defined by her relationships with men and not much else.
Furthermore, the story gets a bit lost in its final act and the supporting characters tend to come and go with little explanation or care given to them. However, Blonde is a bold, relentless look at a pop culture icon. It won’t be praised for its historical accuracy, but it does provide a graphic depiction of her jaw-dropping life. It’s perfectly understandable to object to the brutality of the film’s subject matter, but there’s still so much about this film to marvel at – even if you’ll feel bad for watching it and never want to watch it again.
Like ComingSoon’s audit policy explains, a score of 7 corresponds to “Good”. A successful piece of entertainment worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.
Disclosure: The critic attended a press screening for ComingSoon’s Blonde review.