New to Netflix from today, following a brief theatrical run last week, is the biographical drama, Blonde. The movie – based on the book of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates – provides a dramatization of the life and times of Hollywood star, Marilyn Monroe, covering the highs and lows of her career.
Written and directed by Andrew Dominik, and starring Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, and Bobby Cannavale, Blonde charts Monroe’s story beginning with her childhood living with her mentally ill mother, before moving into her rise to super stardom. The picture highlights her relationships with Charlie Chaplin Jr., Edward G. Robinson Jr., Joe DiMaggio, and Arthur Miller, as well her connection to US President John F. Kennedy.
Blonde covers Monroe’s drug addiction, her exploitation at the hands of those in power, and her own mental health struggles. The film also looks at Monroe’s search for a father figure, tapping into an ongoing theme about abandonment.
All of this is spread across a running time which clocks in at a whopping 166-minutes, and is set to scenes that are predominantly filmed in black-and-white, with occasional moments of colour. The movie is presented as a psychological piece, with writer/director Dominik attempting to provide a window into Marilyn Monroe’s mind and soul, so expect a more cerebral experience than a straight-forward bio-pic.
Now, with the film stretching to almost three-hours in length, the picture aims to cover a significant amount of content, to present a portrait of who Monroe was. The story begins in the 1930s, with her early years, and runs through to 1962, when she passed away at the young age of 36.
If you know nothing about Marilyn Monroe, and you’re keen to get an understanding of some of the milestones of her life, then Blonde fills in a few blanks. The movie ticks off many of the significant moments in her life, with references to her marriages, films, and everything in between.
However, if you’re after a thorough, in-depth analysis of Monroe, to get a very clear picture of who she was and what she did, then you won’t get that with Blonde. Despite its length, the film takes a wishy-washy approach to her biography, presenting highlights without truly going into any detail.
Characters and situations come and go, and at times important or interesting plot points get dropped with little warning. Her relationships seem to spark then fizzle out, with little time spent exploring the finer details, and the real meat of the story seems to get rushed.
And this in itself is odd, because for a film which rushes so much of its story, Blonde is incredibly slow, and mercilessly boring. To say the picture drags would be an understatement – at times it is tedious and mind-numbing.
When I started watching Blonde, I was very hopeful and fully engaged. The longer the movie went on, the more disconnected I became, to the point that by the midsection of the film I was barely interested.
Towards the latter part of the picture, I kept checking my watch to see how long was left. I then followed this up by checking my pulse to see if I was still alive.
Sadly, I was. This meant I had to continue watching the film… because as a movie reviewer, that’s my job.
What didn’t help the situation, was the longer the film ran, the more up its own arse it got. In fact, it got so up its own arse, that it could technically qualify as a colonoscopy.
Of course, Blonde is not as bad as a colonoscopy, but it sure is about as much fun as having the procedure. Plus, with its slightly unusual approach to storytelling (more about that in a moment), for the majority of this movie it feels as if you’re watching the picture while off your box on gas and air.
There is a dreamlike quality to Blonde, which writer/director Andrew Dominik injects into proceedings to reflect Monroe’s often fragile mental state. This technique – which runs the length of the movie – keeps things feeling all floaty and disorientating, and could be seen as an interesting way to better connect the audience with the actress.
But the use of the word ‘could’ here, is doing some very heavy-lifting, because while the dreamlike presentation of this movie is clear, it simply doesn’t work on screen. Going back to what I said earlier about this film feeling wishy-washy, Blonde is incredibly patchy and discombobulating, and I don’t believe this is entirely intentional.
I feel the script just isn’t good enough. There’s not enough material where it’s needed and this means interesting storytelling techniques, used to reflect the mind of the central character, don’t stand up and simply expose the shortcomings in the writing.
My general opinion is, on paper Blonde is a 90-minute film, which has been stretched out to almost double that length. But it has been stretched out without the additional words and information required to make a fully-rounded piece.
It all feels like a collection of scenes which have been flung together without thinking about how they should begin or end. It is unfair to say the film is incoherent, because it’s not, but it isn’t entirely cohesive either.
And then to make matters worse, the film spends a great deal of time lengthening scenes that simply don’t need to exist in the movie. One such example is a scene, towards the end of the picture, where Monroe spends two minutes searching for her wallet, so she can tip a delivery driver!
The scene exists to demonstrate that by this point in time, she is so strung out on medication, that she is unable to focus and organise her life. However, as this scene comes so late in the picture, the audience is already well aware of this, so its inclusion is just baffling and completely perfunctory.
Do we need to see Monroe staggering around for two minutes looking for a few dollars?! No.
Do I need to write about it in this review. Sadly, yes – but I wish I didn’t have to!
My point is, the film finds ways to draw some scenes out, way beyond their need, while at other times it just seems to gloss over situations that could be far more interesting (her film career, her relationships, etc). And yes, I get that this film is supposed to be a picture which focuses in on Monroe’s mental state, but it doesn’t need to do this for almost three hours at the expense of other information.
Why does it string out so many scenes? Because it is up its own arse; I’ve told you this already.
Blonde is a movie which feels as if it has its eyes on Oscar glory. I’m not convinced it will ever get that glory, but someone has bought into its own self-importance.
Now, if you’ve read this far into the review you can obviously tell that I am not a fan of Blonde. However, I’m not entirely down on the picture, because I believe it does have three things going for it: Ana de Armas; the musical score; and the setting and recreation of the 1950s/1960s.
I’ll start in reverse order and say that the movie’s depiction of the past is glorious to behold. Whatever issues I have with the script and odd directing choices, Dominik presents an exquisite looking film which feels as if it has been ripped straight out of yesteryear.
There are a number of iconic Monroe shots, which everyone is familiar with, that are lovingly recreated on screen and they are just perfect. I’m not sure there is a need to mix black-and-white scenes with colour sequences in this film, but regardless of the tones or shades on display, this movie is beautiful to look at.
The film is also a joy to listen to. The soundtrack, from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is delightful and ethereal, and really captures the mood of the film.
Sure, I might not be on board with all of the dreamy-weemy stuff, but I can’t fault the soundtrack. It matches what is on screen just right.
And then this brings me neatly onto the other great thing about Blonde: Ana de Armas. She takes on the role of Monroe with so much commitment and integrity, that she becomes a shining beacon throughout the whole thing.
I can’t imagine I will ever feel the desire to return to Blonde, but I will always champion Ana de Armas’ performance. She embodies Monroe so well, it is as if the actress were truly alive and back on screen.
de Armas brings a sweetness to the role, alongside innocence and fragility. At times there are moments of strength too, along with sadness and vulnerability.
This is a triumphant turn from de Armas and she deserves to be recognised accordingly. She is put through the wringer, yet consistently delivers, even if she is let down by the script and some frustrating choices.
It’s clear that I’m not a fan of Blonde, so there’s no real need to hammer home this point. I’ll simply conclude by saying I was disappointed by the picture and I don’t believe it works in the way it is intended to.
The movie is too long, the script doesn’t work, and the whole thing feels rather dour. Despite the stellar turn from de Armas, it often becomes quite difficult to see the charm and sparkle that existed in Monroe, simply because the film is so obsessed with beating the stuffing out of her at every turn.
For a movie that is so interested in getting into the head of Monroe, Blonde seems to struggle to really get to grips with who she was as a person, an icon, and a legend. The tragedy in her life comes across fairly clear, but everything else about her story lacks clarity and is rather vague.
Blonde is ultimately a disappointment. If you’re a huge Marilyn Monroe fan then I expect you will be checking it out regardless of my mutterings, but if you’re only mildly interested, then you may not want to bother.
There are many Marilyn Monroe documentaries, books, and stories out there which I am sure are far more appealing. This one misses the mark.