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The Blonde In All of Us: A Review of Andrew Dominik’s 'Blonde'

The fragility, the look of acceptance and hurt, the joy of being a Hollywood star, the confusion and determination—they all ebb and flow throughout the film, and Ana de Armas is transfixing

It will always be problematic to produce a biopic of an icon. The recent Baz Luhrmann‘s Elvis, was an example of how getting it right for many, will also be an exercise in having gotten it wrong for others, and being accused of desecrating the memory of an idol/icon.


With Marilyn Monroe, you’re treading on what constitutes sacred ground for the many who still idolize Marilyn, or are fascinated by her tragic, checkered career. After all, let’s not forget that it was in memory of Norma Jeane Baker (Mortenson) that Elton John originally dedicated his song “Candle In The Wind” to—before the English Rose rewording for Princess Diana. 


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In much the same manner that Kristen Stewart earned an Oscar Best Actress nomination for playing Princess Diana in the flawed film 'Spencer', the author does not doubt that Ana de Armas will be a hot topic of conversation whenever Actress in a Lead Role speculation will be made. | Netflix


There’s always been something both tragic and Hollywood-smutty about the Marilyn Monroe story; and this film is based on the 1999 Joyce Carol Oates fictitious biography of Marilyn. While the established facts of Marilyn’s life are properly documented, Oates has always said that this is more an impressionistic portrait of said life, as seen through the prism of Oates’ imagination and presumptions about the internal struggles that Marilyn would have been going through. 


It’s also a potshot at the Hollywood star-making machine of the 1950’s and 1960’s, of privately owned big studios, and the kind of weight and pressure that could be thrown around in the name of making someone a star. As can be expected, it’s also an indictment of the tough, passive and exploited role women had to play or accept, and be open for, just to get a leg up in the industry. And yes, both legs open are also part of this equation. 


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To purists, casting Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe was some bizarre notion of casting, and it would hound production until the film debuted during the recent Venice Film Festival | Netflix

Director Andrew Dominik himself wrote the screen adaptation, and even before the first day of principal photography was shot, there was already controversy attached to the project, precipitated by the announcement that dark-haired Cuban actress Ana de Armas would take on the role of Marilyn. To purists, this was some bizarre notion of casting, and it would hound production until the film debuted during the recent Venice Film Festival. 


So first, let’s stamp that ‘elephant’ out of the room. Ana de Armas is a wonderful actress, spent close to a year on speech to better sound like Marilyn, and comes out as one of the smartest choices made on this film. You don’t need her to look exactly like Marilyn; but the essence of Marilyn, and Ana’s going into character, are evident from the first moment she appears on screen. The fragility, the look of acceptance and hurt, the joy of being a Hollywood star, the confusion and determination - they all ebb and flow throughout the film, and she’s transfixing. She runs through so many emotional mountains and valleys in the course of the movie that you can’t help but admire the commitment she made to the role and film.


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Capturing the essence of Marilyn, Ana successfully goes into character, are evident from the first moment she appears on screen | Netflix

In much the same manner that Kristen Stewart earned an Oscar Best Actress nomination for playing Princess Diana in the flawed film Spencer, I don’t doubt that Ana de Armas will be a hot topic of conversation whenever Actress in a Lead Role speculation will be made. I’ve not seen Cate Blanchett in Tár, or Olivia Colman in Empire of Light, but I don’t doubt for a moment that Ana will figure in most shortlists for all the Award-giving bodies come early 2023. If there’s one thing that may preclude Ana, it’s the reception that the film itself will earn.


So let’s talk about this Andrew Dominik ‘auteur’ film. And it is very much his film, running for close to three hours (2hours, 46 minutes). I’m trying to be kind here, but it is over-long, over-stylized, and over-indulgent. Dominik has an eye, lush cinematography, and knows how to ingeniously stitch the real life movies of Marilyn into the Ana de Armas-led narrative; but he also fails to apply the brakes on a number of things that he’s doing well to start with. At some point, you have to know when to stop, to refrain from lingering, or over-laboring on a theme or motif you’re trying to put across. 

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Dominik has an eye, lush cinematography, and knows how to ingeniously stitch the real life movies of Marilyn into the Ana de Armas-led narrative; but he also fails to apply the brakes on a number of things that he’s doing well to start with | Netflix

On those counts, Dominik fails, and while you can say he fails in a spectacular manner; it’s still a failure. As a result, the film is watchable, but an ordeal. It’s pretty to look at, and you’ll wondrously appreciate the lighting, set design, camera angles and shots made; but you’ll also get impatient with how he just hangs around, when we could be moving on to the next sequence.


Other critics have complained about how if Marilyn was exploited and that’s what you wanted to show, the film does the disservice of exploiting her even further, with the tawdry scenes of a certain producer, a certain director, a certain President, and so on. And while one could say, it’s part of the narrative and shouldn’t have been left out, one can also argue about how the camera lingers unnecessarily.


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'Blonde' is pretty to look at, and you’ll wondrously appreciate the lighting, set design, camera angles and shots made; but you’ll also likely get impatient. Adrian Brody as Arthur Miller and Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in Netflix film, 'Blonde' | Netflix


For those unaware, Marilyn did set up her own production company. Plus she wasn’t color-blind, helping Ella Fitzgerald contest discrimination. But by choice, it’s evident that this isn’t the story Dominik is out to present. More, it’s the headlong crash into suicide that he’s trying to chronicle. It’s the tragedy of the Hollywood bombshell, the woman who was the sex symbol for an era, and the price she paid for that kind of adulation. 


And I’m not contesting the validity of that particular narrative strand; but I will stand by my opinion that this could have been done in a manner that isn’t as indulgent and long-winded, as the Blonde movie we now get to watch. 




Blonde is available to stream on Netflix now.