We’ve seen Marilyn Monroe’s life explored in biopics, documentaries, autobiographies, Snickers commercials, and the short-lived TV series Smash. We’ve also seen enough recreations of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend to fill a WatchMojo Top 10. Blonde promises to be a different beast with an NC-17 rating, an epic run time, and an inspired casting choice in Ana de Armas. In many respects, Blonde is among the more unique interpretations of the bombshell, especially when it takes an abstract approach. For every experimental scene, though, there’s another that takes the standard biopic route. While those scenes aren’t poorly executed, they feel par for the course.
Blonde can play like a greatest hits compilation from Monroe’s filmography. Of course, there’s the iconic white dress from The Seven Year Itch and the pink number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Andrew Dominik peels back the tormented soul behind those bubbly scenes, but so have most other depictions of Monroe. By this point, it’s no secret that the colorful persona we saw on screen didn’t reflect Monroe’s mental health struggles. We’ve seen much of this before. The same goes for Monroe’s various relationships, from Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) to Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody). Being based on a biographical fiction novel, Blonde also touches upon Monroe’s rumored lovers, such as Charles Chaplin Jr. and President Kennedy. If you’re wondering why Blonde is NC-17, I refer you to a scene between Monroe and Mr. President.
While Andrew Dominik’s screenplay doesn’t bring much new to the Monroe legend, de Armas’ performance does. Many were caught off guard when it was announced that a Cuban and Spanish actress would play Monroe. De Armas not only pulls off the physical transformation and voice, but she’s downright devastating in the role. We’ve seen other tragic portrayals, but de Armas approaches the role like Kristen Stewart in Spencer. Blonde at times plays out like a biographical horror movie with the media, doctors, and Hollywood treating Monroe like she’s the final girl. Julianne Nicholson is equally haunting as Norma Jeane’s unstable mother. Had Blonde been a straight-up psychological thriller, this might’ve been a masterstroke. It could’ve even been a clever commentary on exploitation pictures. Half of the time, though, Blonde shifts back into biopic mode.
Dominik’s direction is a mixed bag. Blonde overflows with inspired imagery and mesmerizing transitions. A standout moment merges a bed and Nigral Falls with Monroe caught in the middle. Although Chayse Irvin’s cinematography has echoes of an Oscar contender, it lacks consistency. Blonde randomly shifts between color and black-and-white. This could be effectively utilized to separate the glamor from the brutal reality, but there’s little rhyme or reason. As for the 166-minute run time, I’ve seen shorter movies that felt longer, but Blonde could’ve used more focus.
The third act is the film’s strongest as Monroe becomes completely detached and descends into her final days. This section has a dreamlike, Stanley Kubrick quality with visuals telling us everything we need to know. Moments like this are spread throughout Blonde, but we also need to push through a lot of on-the-nose scenes concerning Monroe’s identity crisis and abandonment issues. There’s an hour and forty-minute version of this movie that presents Marilyn as we’ve never seen her before. At nearly three hours, Blonde can be familiar, but de Armas’ performance is one of a kind.