Blonde review: Ana de Armas delivers a bombshell turn as Marilyn Monroe
Ana de Armas10
Direction / Cinematography9
Script / Editing8
Matthew Turner | On 28, Sep 2022
Director: Andrew Dominik
Cast: Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, Julianne Nicholson
Produced by Netflix and directed by Andrew Dominik, Blonde is part Marilyn Monroe biopic and part adaptation of the fictionalised novel by Joyce Carol Oates. Audiences unfamiliar with the details of Marilyn’s life may require the assistance of Wikipedia to sort fact from fiction – in other words, no, she didn’t really have an ongoing threesome with the sons of Charlie Chaplin and Edward G Robinson – but the film’s conceit works well, because the idea that the persona of Marilyn Monroe is itself a fictional construct is central to the film.
Adapted by Dominik, the script unfolds in mostly chronological order, beginning with young Norma Jeane Baker’s (Lily Fisher) deeply unhappy childhood, growing up with her alcoholic, abusive mother (Julianne Nicholson), who never told her who her father was, only that he was someone well known in Hollywood. After finding success as a model, Norma (now played by Ana de Armas) is “discovered” by Hollywood and changes her name to Marilyn Monroe, entering into a succession of exploitative relationships with men along the way.
After years of abuse, as well as multiple miscarriages and forced abortions, coupled with drug addiction, Marilyn’s psyche begins to fracture, and the film becomes more abstract as a result, occasionally devolving into terrifying nightmarish imagery, such as Marilyn walking a red carpet where the leering men all have weirdly wide open mouths, like something out of a horror film. The cumulative effect is devastating, allowing the film to explore some powerful issues – trauma, abuse, the sexual exploitation of Hollywood – as Marilyn goes from being an unwanted child to the most wanted woman in the world.
The film is anchored by a sensational performance from Ana de Armas, who will surely be getting some awards recognition come Oscar time. In addition to perfectly recreating several of Marilyn’s most famous scenes, she delivers a deeply compassionate turn that is heartbreaking to watch as Marilyn’s dreams – to have children, to do serious work as an actor, to achieve happiness – are repeatedly dashed, despite being the envy of millions and seemingly having it all.
Blonde is de Armas’ film through and through (she’s in practically every scene), but there are strong turns in the supporting cast too, including Bobby Cannavale as Joe DiMaggio and Adrien Brody as Arthur Miller – the script assumes at least a basic knowledge on the audience’s behalf, as neither of her most famous husbands are actually named, outside of glimpses in tabloid headlines. In a performance that is equally deserving of awards attention, Julianne Nicholson is genuinely terrifying as Marilyn’s mother.
Shot in alternating aspect ratios, as well as switching between colour and black and white, the film looks stunning, courtesy of Chayse Irvin’s striking cinematography. However, the most inspired touch comes courtesy of the costume and production design departments, which recreate many of Marilyn’s most famous photoshoots as if they were scenes in the film – such as the iconic image of Marilyn wearing a cardigan on the beach, reframed as a private moment between her and Miller.
In fairness, the film isn’t entirely without flaws. Dominik’s decision to include multiple “womb-cam” shots seems ill-advised, and the film probably didn’t need the explicit content that earned its adult rating. There’s also a lot more nudity than audiences are probably expecting, which is either a deliberate comment on Hollywood’s exploitation or just exploitative in and of itself.
This review was originally published during the 2022 Venice Film Festival.