Based on the novel of the same name by author Joyce Carol Oates, Blonde is a fictionalised account of the life of Marilyn Monroe, with Cuban-Spanish actress Ana de Armas starring as Monroe. Directed by Andrew Dominik, who also wrote the screenplay, the film attempts to unpack the industry icon’s life and career from childhood through to her untimely death at the height of her career.
A name that resonates across the globe, Marilyn Monroe was a monolith unlike any other. Her hourglass figure and natural beauty helped her to achieve early success as a model before she became a household name and Hollywood’s staple ‘ditsy blonde’. Dominik’s film plants us at the very beginning of her storied life before quickly jumping ahead to her earliest attempts at becoming an actress.
Despite stating that he did plenty of research into Monroe’s life, Dominik shared in an interview that Oates’ novel was “pretty much the bible for the film”. Oates herself has insisted that the novel is a complete work of fiction, and it’s important to hold onto that knowledge when watching Blonde, as it often blurs the lines between fantasy and reality in order to sensationalise her story.
A very good likeness for Monroe when in the full look, de Armas is truly a vision. Having worked extensively with a dialect coach to thin her natural accent out as much as possible, de Armas makes great pains to maintain Monroe’s cadence. To her immense credit, de Armas threw herself into the role and the work absolutely shows. Despite her natural Cuban accent occasionally slipping through, the way de Armas embodies Monroe on the screen is something like magic, arguably one of the best performances of the starlet to grace the screen; de Armas proves adept at flowing between sweet, naive, enigmatic, and erratic, effortlessly. With support from Adrien Brody and Bobby Cannavale as Monroe’s ex-husbands Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio respectively, Blonde boasts an impressively talented cast.
Visually, Blonde is an incredibly impressive film. It’s clear that great care was taken with the technical production; Blonde has some gorgeous cinematography and editing with much of the film in black and white and the occasional portions done in colour. Dominik also managed to acquire the rights from MGM to use original film footage from All About Eve (1950), Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), Niagara (1953), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), and Some Like It Hot (1959) that de Armas was digitally inserted into, creating the illusion that she was working opposite Monroe’s original co-stars like Tony Curtis.
In terms of the way Dominik chose to tell the story of Blonde, there’s a lot more to be scrutinised than praised. Working under the knowledge that Blonde is a fictional account of Monroe’s life, the way it explores the difficulties she experienced is questionable, leaning heavily into the realm of trauma porn.
Blonde does track the many relationships of Marilyn Monroe, including her marriage to retired baseball star Joe DiMaggio. Monroe and DiMaggio’s marriage is depicted in the film largely as it was in real life, with DiMaggio (Cannavale) showing increasingly controlling, abusive behaviour and a distaste for Monroe’s star rising so rapidly. While it’s important to show relationships in film as they really are, the way that Blonde lingers on the moments of abuse between Monroe and DiMaggio, even when it’s done off-screen, last far too long. Cannavale, given his height and size compared to de Armas, has an imposing presence on screen that suits the persona he’s portraying perfectly.
Blonde also explores the themes of motherhood and how having children can negatively impact a woman’s career. While friends of the actress have stated that she had many abortions throughout her life to prevent halting her career, Blonde and Dominik make the whole process more disturbing than it needs to be. After becoming part of a thrupple with young actors Charlie “Cass” Chaplin Jr. and Edward Robinson Jr., Monroe discovers she’s pregnant and undergoes a gory abortion that visualises some extremely invasive parts of the procedure. The film is purposely ambiguous about whether the abortion was her choice, and watching it play out on screen is so uncomfortable.
While married to her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller (portrayed by Adrien Brody), Monroe did sadly experience two miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy. We don’t see all of that play out before their marriage dissolves, but we do see one of the pregnancies go wrong. Through Dominik’s lens, we’re given a weird scene where Monroe’s unborn baby, shown to be fully grown despite it being far too early in her pregnancy, talks to her and guilts her for her previous abortion. It was probably intended to showcase Monroe’s declining mental state rather than make any explicit statements on the ethics and morality of abortion, but it really doesn’t read that way. The scene was so deeply bizarre and unsettling; the CGI rendering of the baby, the small voice that comes from it, everything about that moment was so unnecessary.
There is so much more to unpack about this film, but frankly the bottom line is that Blonde seems determined to repeatedly victimise Monroe. From a needlessly graphic ‘couch casting’ to a prolonged and unsettling sexual moment between her and John F. Kennedy, the pitfalls of Monroe’s life, fictional or otherwise, are all that Blonde seems to care about and not even a career-making performance from de Armas could salvage it.
Truly, Blonde will now forever be known as a film that squandered its phenomenal talents and infinite potential, instead becoming a disgustingly long trauma dump that leaves viewers unsettled and bored.