Review: ‘Blonde’ is hard to watch, but impossible to forget

Judging by the hauntingly haunted “Blonde,” in theaters headed to Netflix on September 28, Marilyn Monroe’s life was no joke. She was too stressed out to maintain the blonde bombshell image that the Hollywood patriarchy had used to commodify, abuse and imprison her.

Based on the 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates, the film also reshapes the events of Monroe’s life to get closer to her bruised psyche. Written and directed by Andrew Dominik (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Cowardly Robert Ford”) with a poet’s eye and a forensic attention to punitive detail, “Blonde” is glamor wrapped in misery.

It’s also a nearly three-hour endurance test that only arrives fitfully at something primitive and true. But when it arrives, you will be hit by a loop. Monroe died in 1962 of barbiturate poisoning, a probable suicide, at age 36. “Blonde” means shake you with his challenges. And he does sometimes.

PHOTO: Ana de Armas plays Marilyn Monroe in the Netflix movie, "Blond."


Ana de Armas plays Marilyn Monroe in the Netflix movie, “Blonde.”

All praise to the raw and mesmerizing Ana de Armas, the Cuban star of “Knives Out” and “No Time to Die,” the Bond girl who through the tools of makeup, hair and costume, along with acting wizardry , offers a performance that is on the verge of reincarnation. She recreates Monroe’s breathy whisper of sexual fulfillment with a subtext of nervous tension churning beneath her.

What a coincidence that the two main cultural and sexual icons of the 20th century, Monroe and Elvis Presley, have been mythologized in movies this year. Although Elvis died at age 42, a broken and bloated shadow of himself, he had it easy compared to Monroe.

In and out of orphanages and foster homes as her mother, played fiercely by Emmy Award winner “Mare of Easttown” Julianne Nicholson, struggled with health issues, young Monroe – then Norma Jeane – clung to the claims of her mother that her anonymous and invisible daughter would one day be rescued by her father.

That day never comes, though Monroe purrs “daddy” to her paternal husbands, baseball great Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) and genius playwright Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody). One of her abuses her physically while the other exploits her tragedy in her plays and movies.

De Armas gives us a Monroe who has had to deal with the beatings since childhood. A young Norma Jeane, played by the radiant 8-year-old Lily Fisher, must endure her mother’s attempts to drown her in a bathtub and also lead them both into a raging Los Angeles forest fire.

Talk about trauma. And yet, Monroe believes her “her daddy” will save her. In one interlude, she embarks on a simultaneous sexual affair with two men, Charles Chaplin Jr. (Xavier Samuel) and Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Garret Dillahunt), with celebrity dads who neglected them.

Too? your bet. Like the scenes where Monroe has conversations with the fetuses she has aborted due to the studio’s insistence, or because of her own fear that her mother’s mental health issues will be passed on to the children she says that she wants so much.

PHOTO: Ana de Armas plays Marilyn Monroe in the Netflix movie "Blond."


Ana de Armas plays Marilyn Monroe in the Netflix movie “Blonde.”

Dominik goes to great lengths to show the intelligence that Monroe hid beneath her marketable guise as the ultimate dumb blonde. We see her shrewdly negotiate a contract that will put her financially on a par with Jane Russell, her “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” co-star.

Later, on the set of 1959’s “Some Like It Hot,” we see Monroe angry at director Billy Wilder for demeaning her by having co-star Jack Lemmon ogle her swagger and lewdly joke that she “looks like jelly.” with springs”. What would cancel culture do with that sexist comment today?

Monroe never felt the support of #MeToo. Her insecurities made men define her as a difficult diva. On screen, at least, Monroe always had the last laugh, ready to poke fun at her image before anyone else could. That’s why her best performances still feel fresh and spontaneous.

What “Blonde” shows us is a sex symbol uninterested in sex. “We’re soul mates,” she confides to two Secret Service agents who take her on a secret hotel rendezvous with President John Kennedy. But while Dominik is filming that scene, JFK cruelly treats her like a piece of meat.

De Armas makes us feel every slight, every humiliation, like a series of cuts that register as PTSD before that term was even coined.

Does Dominik exploit Monroe by reducing her life to a series of assaults administered by men he films as lecherous gargoyles? Sometimes. But the film is far from “The murder of Marilyn Monroe by the cowardly Andrew Dominik.”

In the final analysis, Dominik cares too much. As Monroe’s leg dangles from her deathbed in the final scene, Dominik grants the troubled Norman Jeane a peaceful stillness that she and Marilyn never encountered in life. “Blonde” is hard to watch, but impossible to forget.

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