• 17 Sep - 23 Sep, 2022
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

You might find Blonde a little over the top, but hey, at least it’s not bland. In his first narrative feature in 10 years, Andrew Dominik brings intoxicating visual style and a voyeuristic leer to Joyce Carol Oates’ 700-plus page biographical fiction novel of the same name. A mythic fable about Marilyn Monroe as an unwanted child desired by millions, passed around by men as she desperately searched for someone to call “Daddy” on her path to self-destruction, this is a treatise on celebrity that blurs not only reality with fantasy but also empathy with exploitation. Either despite or because of all that, it’s a must-see. There’s a lot of great stuff here, particularly a raw performance from Ana de Armas that strips the most examined woman in pop-culture history bare, literally and metaphorically. But as it lurches on well past the two-hour mark, spiraling deeper into nightmare, Blonde becomes a lurid horror movie, at times overwhelmingly unpleasant. The opening wastes no time setting up the psychological through-line of the absent father figure. Her teen years and early 20s are a montage of magazine shoots and pinups, including calendar nudes. Monroe’s early film experiences are conflated, making her first screen role her brief but memorable appearance in All About Eve. Marilyn’s stormy marriage to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale), identified as “the former athlete,” who’s uncomfortable with her fame far eclipsing his. He loses his cool and gets violent over the subway-grate scene, when delighted crowds gather to watch cameras capture her skirt blowing up in the breeze. Feeding her instability, Marilyn receives letters at regular intervals supposedly written by her unnamed father, who keeps promising to make himself known to her soon. That psychological torment builds to a pitiless revelation when she learns the truth, and by that time you might be feeling as viciously mistreated as Marilyn. The tragic dimension of a woman adored by the world, devoured by Hollywood and ultimately abandoned to her own despair in an ordinary little house in Brentwood resonates because we know Marilyn’s sad story. But it’s hard to ignore the queasy feeling that Dominik is getting off on the tawdry spectacle. De Armas holds nothing back in connecting with the character’s pain.