“Blonde,” a Marilyn Monroe biopic with fictional moments taken from the Joyce Carol Oates novel thrown in, didn’t give me what I expected it would. It gave me so much more. Having never felt one way or another about Marilyn Monroe, I assumed I’d be viewing a movie about her life that would have a revelation or two. I expected information about how she started in the business and to learn a little about her childhood. Perhaps this movie would dig a little deeper, but even so, that would be that.
Ana de Armas’ likeness to Marilyn was uncanny. She was so powerful in her portrayal that you could believe she was challening the legendary actress. Her depiction of the “sexpot,” a nickname that wouldn’t have been stamped on Marilyn had anyone cared to get to know her, was dynamic. After watching it, I feel strongly about this woman and believe this film will have the same effect on you.
Writer/Director Andrew Dominik (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) wanted his biopic to stand out from the crowd for the film’s subject, not for himself. He had to be honest in his storytelling and to do this, he had to unveil the truth. That truth earned him a scarcely seen or desired NC-17 rating, a death sentence for most films. Dare I say it will not be the case for “Blonde” as his audience will understand the reason for his directorial decisions. Some reasons are to reveal how Marilyn emerged from a terribly abusive childhood to one of the most loved women in the world.
First, he presents us with Norma Jeane Mortensen in a surprising way. We witness what this sweet girl had to do if she ever wanted to be anyone other than the fatherless daughter of a drunken mother named Gladys, played by Julianne Nicholson. One of those things was to allow people to see her as a dumb blonde. She wasn’t a blonde, nor was she dumb. She read Dostoevsky and would quote him from time to time. Agonizingly, she was laughed at for saying she enjoyed his work as if she were lying about it to get a part.
Marilyn also spent many years bent over a desk to get where she wanted to go, but it wasn’t the physical torture that hurt her the most. The men were in charge, and she knew there was no getting around that. Being seen as less than by a male-dominated system was worse. They preferred women to be kept in their place rather than move up a rung into ‘their’ territory. She received a lot of love from men who only wanted to be around her for how she made them feel about themselves. This was made exceedingly clear, but she never gets love from the one she sought it the most… her absent father.
Her husband, baseball legend Joe Dimaggio (Bobby Cannavale), hated her line of work ending that relationship. Her husband, writer Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody), appreciated her insights into his work, but these loves didn’t last long because they wanted Marilyn, not Norma Jeane. Everyone did. They also never give her the child that she desperately wanted. The movie profoundly examines her desire to have a child. She had hoped beyond hope from her marriages she’d have a child. This hope was something fleeting that made her more miserable as time progressed.
When she’s through with Hollywood, she thinks it’s New York she needs. It’s here where she takes acting classes at the Actors Studio, learning the technique of Method acting. Method is where an actor gives oneself to the role through their own experiences. They emote what’s deep within, allowing themselves to be wholly taken over by empathy and passion. In class, having plenty to pull from in such a short time, she’s exceedingly successful.
There’s so much more to this movie than I’ve touched on. The camera work is stunning. Blurring is used to scrutinize her decisions. This and other tricks show her state of mind, especially when she becomes paranoid and starts taking pills. Though I don’t condone the POV shot of a speculum coming into play, for the most part, “Blonde” does as it should. It offers a glimpse into the life and death of someone in a system they’re incapable of handling and is destroyed by their love of that system. The shot that will stay with you once the film ends is of her foot dangling from the mattress she has just died on. The sound of children playing outside can be heard from her room in the house. This lone shot puts everything into perspective for you and may even put a tear in your eye.
DIRECTED BY: Andrew Dominik
WRITTEN FOR THE SCREEN BY: Andrew Dominik
STARRING: Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, Julianne Nicholson, Lily Fisher, Evan Williams, Toby Huss, David Warshofsky, Caspar Phillipson, Dan Butler, Sara Paxton, Rebecca Wisocky
RATED: Blonde is rated NC-17 for some sexual content
RUN TIME: 2h 46m
GENRES: Biography, Drama, Mystery
PRODUCED BY: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Tracey Landon, Scott Robertson
*BASED ON THE FICTIONAL NOVEL: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates