Seeing Blonde later in its release cycle made avoiding any reviews or opinions nearly impossible. It’s the 2022 discourse film. The film inspires outrage among 20-some that haven’t seen a Monroe film or even Blonde. It sparked blind outrage for daring to capture Norma Jean through her trauma, rather than her triumphs or dazzling personality. I get why this portrayal could enrage the general populace, as the sex symbol and untouched icon are debased by Andrew Dominik. However, it’s not an abomination as the consensus believes, but more so a terribly dull film that wastes an opportunity to capture Monroe in all her glory.
Dominik’s Lackluster Direction
Technically speaking, Dominik’s approach had all the pop and flash of Monroe’s persona. With a film jumbling many tones, switching constantly from black-and-white to color, and editing this 147-minute beast with elliptical cutting, there was plenty of style. However, that style served little purpose in the plot and felt maximalist without using the elongated run time to fully explore her. Yet, the cinematography was admirable, making Monroe (Ana De Armas) look absolutely gorgeous, but also showing her at her ugliest. The dichotomy is far and away one of the most interesting aspects of this journey, but unfortunately, the tonal balance often leads one way not willing to explore outside the framework of the script
The script and direction give her no remorse and choose to focus entirely on one element of her personality. Every story beat relates back to her pain and Ana De Armas, who plays her with a lot of complexity I might add, has to constantly hide away any pain in front of other people. There’s a lot of restraint in the writing, despite Dominik essentially vomiting all his style on the screen, making for an uneven watch. It’s so over-the-top that it feels like we’re never given time to digest when the film goes way overlong. It’s sloppy. Undoubtedly ambitious, but the edginess and dourness of Dominik’s vision make the tonal balance, entertainment value, and pacing complicated.
Armas Captures Norma Jean
Luckily, Ana De Armas was good casting. She is magnetic and in a film where the supporting players are lifeless and blank canvases, she delivers close to a one-woman tour-de-force. She paints the canvas, showing Monroe to be yearning for a simpler life, but is thrust into the world of showbiz. It’s an intelligent performance and the one element of the film that works quite well. The mannerism is one thing, the nearly identical appearance is another, but it’s her ability to hide away underneath it all that makes her great. She sinks into the role and De Armas gets lost. Easily her best career performance so far.
Aside from the claims of “trauma porn” and feeling overbearing with Dominik’s insistence on shooting her topless, the biggest offender is the film is a slog to get through because there’s nothing actually being said about Monroe’s life. It’s hard to be bothered to care about details when the editing makes sure to gloss over emotional story beats and focus entirely on the melodrama. The way Dominik shoots conversations made any dialog scene a snooze and then would cut to an overly dramatic visual sequence. There’s no balance and nothing concrete being said in the meantime. This, combined with the runtime, make it nearly unwatchable. There’s absolutely no way a person unfamiliar with Monroe will make it to the end of this on Netflix.
Moreover than being hit repeatedly with her inner turmoil, the playful approach to the actual history of Monroe makes this even more of a bother. Instead of getting genuine scenes with Billy Wilder or when making The Asphalt Jungle, it’s again, glossed over to move the focus back to the pain. This approach is mind-numbingly boring to watch and there’s virtually no reason for me to ever return to this film in the future.