A fictionalized chronicle of the inner life of Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn Monroe is one of those film stars that seems to exist beyond the movies she starred in, a bonafide screen legend whose death at a young age and sex appeal has long meant her appeal as a major pop culture icon has endured over 60 years since her death. There’s been a couple of attempts to tell her story before, but none that have delved as deep into her life, her upbringing, her career and her tragic end as in Andrew Dominik’s ‘Blonde’, a Netflix release that has drawn controversy for its approach to telling Monroe’s story. It is based on a bestselling 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates, which presented a fictionalised take on Monroe’s life and career, drawing on the key real events but embellishing or imagining in other aspects. Dominik has carried on with that approach and your enjoyment of ‘Blonde’ may depend largely on how comfortable you feel with this take.
‘Blonde’ stars the Cuban actress Ana de Armas as Monroe, a perhaps curious take given de Armas is a natural brunette and doesn’t have the accent to match Monroe, however de Armas is a fine actress and I felt she embodied the ‘character’ of Monroe that fits the semi fictionalized take on her story. Dominik covers almost her entire life, from her tough upbringing with a mentally unstable mother (Julianne Nicholson), through her various marriages (some characters are not listed as their real names, for reasons that will become clear), to her later struggles with drugs and alcohol. It is told in a linear fashion but there’s no clear start or end to the key relationships in her life – everyone appears to come and go, reflecting the perhaps transient nature of how her life was led and her lack of true friends or role models.
I was a big fan of the unconventional filmmaking and felt it gave Monroe’s story a poetic tragedy, although I can see why in some quarters it could be deemed as exploitative given it’s graphic depiction of sexual abuse. I felt Dominik walked that thin line quite well for the most part, and I don’t think it would have been right for the film to ignore those experiences which rightly or wrongly would have played a large part in shaping Monroe’s life. As is common for Dominik projects, ‘Blonde’ is scored by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, with some of Cave’s recent album ‘Ghosteen’ being reworked for the move. As a big fan of Cave I was always going to like this choice, but I felt it worked particularly well given ‘Ghosteen’ was written shortly after the death of Cave’s son Arthur, and the music from that plays out in part as a haunting eulogy to his life. In ‘Blonde’, it’s particularly effective in a sequence following the initial blooming romance between Monroe and the playwright Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody).
‘Blonde‘ is a compelling movie based on the life of a screen legend, enhanced by a brilliant lead performance from Ana de Armas and a fresh and original take on the biopic genre, that for me at least, worked very well for its subject.
Directed By: Andrew Dominik
Starring: Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, Julianne Nicholson, Caspar Phillipson, Toby Huss and Sara Paxton