Ana de Armas is provocative as Marilyn Monroe in a gritty portrait drama that engages.
"Some will love Monroe, some will hate her," said Ana de Armas, Blonde's lead star, after receiving a particularly nasty fan letter. Here, of course, she's talking about her actress persona, but it's also a wink to the horrified viewer: you'll either loathe or love the film. Given how divided critics are about this fictional biopic, I'd say the film has succeeded in its mission to outrage, disgust and provoke. Personally, I'm more in the middle ground: there's a lot to like about the film adaptation of the Joyce Carol Oates book, but also a lot that detracts from the experience.
Director Andrew Dominik, whose work includes The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, intends to pull back the fake Hollywood cover and strip off Marilyn Monroe's clothes for nearly three hours to make the audience feel as bad as possible. It's a film about the objectification of the Hollywood sweetheart - while the film itself objectifies her. Whether that's a disgusting contradiction or just part of the film's shock tactics I leave to the viewer, but the misery porn works thanks to the hypnotic, fragmentary storytelling. There's something creepy about the fevered narration, which at times borders on Lynch-scented horror and often breaks the line between dream and reality. The hospital lights and camera flashes become one and the same as her private life becomes increasingly exposed to the hungry eyes of the public. Anyone hoping for a happy ending will have to browse further in the Netflix catalogue.
Ana de Armas stars as the tragic film icon, portrayed here as a helpless rag doll with severe daddy issues, who in her search for security ends up in terrible relationships and a series of miscarriages. Her body is exploited, abused, penetrated; her psyche is broken down, shattered and destroyed; her brilliance is demystified, distorted and blackened. Whether we're watching Monroe climax atop a waterfall, being intimate the president, or a dialogue with an unborn foetus, it's as hard to see as it is to look away. While much of the tragedy that befalls de Armas' fragile character is fictional, and while I can understand critics' objections to the character's powerlessness, the film was never meant to give the viewer any hope whatsoever. It wants to destroy you, completely, and there are several scenes that are deeply heart-breaking. Her most famous film moments are interspersed with traumatic abuse in a distasteful way, adding to the sordid feeling Dominik wants to convey.
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After an hour and 45 minutes, the provocative devices become repetitive and by the time an hour of the film is left, the whole thing becomes somewhat tedious. Here, of course, Dominik wants to drag out the character's suffering as much as possible to hammer home the message, but it becomes too drawn out towards the end, a little too monotonous. It's poignant to a point and although the ending manages to seal Monroe's sad fate, you can't shake the feeling that the film could have been trimmed down a bit, and tightened up a bit. Either way, the film manages to make the viewer feel complicit, as if we were one of the panting, mischievous photographers out to devour Monroe's essence.