Blonde (2022) Review (2024)

I was lucky enough to see Blonde during its limited theatrical release, the Netflix-produced fictionized account of the life and times of Marilyn Monroe adapted from the 1999 novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates. The novel’s description says that it “presents a fictionalized take on the life of American actress Marilyn Monroe” and that “Oates insists that the novel is a work of fiction that should not be regarded as a biography.” I have no problem with this creative decision for the book or movie. I prefer dramatic interpretation over factual account just about every time. I don’t care if a story it’s real or not, I just want it to be interesting.

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This kind of freedom gives director Andrew Dominik license to craft a wide-ranging portrait of the tortured actress’s life, from an orphaned little girl to a traumatized American icon. While Blonde isn’t an outright horror film, there is a throughline of horror as it spotlights the traumatic moments in the actress’s life. It also feels like it could’ve easily been a Twilight Zone episode, with a young starlet becoming world-famous but then being consumed by that same fame and stardom.

The film begins with Monroe, aka, Norma Jeane Baker, as a young girl raised by an abusive, alcoholic mother, played by a convincingly unhinged Julianne Nicholson. She’s told her absent father is actually a famous movie star who will one day return for them, but never reveals his name. This becomes an obsession for Norma Jeane, which will consume her throughout her life. After a series of increasingly manic episodes, her mother is committed, and young Norma Jeane is put up for adoption. Halfway through this fiery opening section, I thought to myself, That’s how you start a movie!

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After this prologue, the film flashes forward as Norma Jeane is given her new blond bombshell moniker and tracks Monroe’s life as she rises from pin-up model to struggling supporting player and finally to superstar, where the film spends the majority of its running time. While Blonde has a relatively linear narrative, it does jump around in Monroe’s life.

These jumps are accompanied by a variety of different cinematic styles to fit the period in her life being depicted, from black and white and colour stocks to alternating aspect ratios. These moments include her multiple marriages and the resulting complications, her traumatic interactions with Hollywood power players, and the pursuit of her goal of becoming a legitimate actress.

“While Blonde has a relatively linear narrative, it does jump around in Monroe’s life.”

A lot of what’s so special about this film isn’t necessarily the events themselves (though they are interesting) but their execution and the way the performances completely dominate the narrative. Ana de Armas (Knives Out, Blade Runner 2049) makes a star turn as the lead. Her performance as Monroe is transcendent. I had heard her strong Spanish-Cuban accent in other films and knew that would be a hurdle for her, but when I actually heard her speak in this film, I was shocked. You can still hear it spill out here and there, especially when she’s being emotional, but overall, de Armas does an exceptional job and inhabits the role so effortlessly. That, combined with how totally transformative her hair and makeup are, meant that there were times when I couldn’t tell her apart from the real Monroe. It was uncanny.

There’s little doubt that de Armas will be a shoo-in for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Regardless of whether she wins, she deserves some form of recognition for this extraordinary performance.

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I suppose I must touch on the controversy surrounding Blonde’s NC-17 rating. Some critics and viewers have labelled the film as obscene, degrading, and deviant. I wasn’t shocked by the movie at all, nor did I think it was gratuitous. It included situations and acts that are completely commonplace in everyday life. I find it very strange that as soon as you talk about those things out loud or put them in the movie, they’re suddenly seen as deviant or obscene.

In this case, the elephant in the room are the film’s many sexually explicit scenes. Far from excessive, these scenes exist to serve the story of a lost, wayward actress spiralling further and further out of control. If they’re uncomfortable to watch, that’s probably the point. Some things can’t be glossed over or simply implied, they have to be shown.

The film’s director perfectly summed up the reasoning behind the film’s direction and rating while speaking to Screen Daily in February 2022, saying: “It’s a demanding movie,” he said. “If the audience doesn’t like it, that’s the f*cking audience’s problem. It’s not running for public office.” It’s an NC-17 movie about Marilyn Monroe, it’s kind of what you want, right?” he continued. “I want to go and see the NC-17 version of the Marilyn Monroe story.”

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I saw Benedetta last year in the theatre, which had much more sexually explicit content. Granted, it was released without a rating, but I find it ironic that Blonde got so much flak, as it’s quite tame by comparison. Perhaps both films suffer more from their reputations than their actual content.

I’d wager that a lot of people’s reactions to this movie are based largely on their expectations for it. I was expecting a gritty, brutal drama about Marilyn Monroe, and I left completely satisfied. Dark drama, horror movie, post-modern snuff film; call it what you will, but at the end of the day, Blonde is anything but dull.

Blonde (2022) Review (2024)

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