Reimagining the rise of the world’s most famous actress, Marilyn Monroe, and the deep, lifelong scars that led to her tragic downfall.
In her novel Joyce Carol Oates took particular care, prefacing Blonde, her fictionalised account of the life and death of an enduring icon as just that: complete fiction. I can’t help but wonder if a different reception would’ve greeted Andrew Dominick’s hugely controversial adaptation of the same name had he taken the same mitigative step.
Blonde is a bleak, brutal nightmare laced with sensationalism, misery and misogyny. And that’s the point. This isn’t a biopic; this is a straight-up horror story about the tragedy of a broken, incomplete childhood and the commodification of life, our only portal to now being a set of increasingly time-worn polaroids. This isn’t a celebration; it’s a warning. A highly effective one at that.
On a technical level, this is a stunning film. Dominik and cinematographer Chayse Irvin make use of snapshots of Monroe/Jeane’s life and career, painstakingly recreating iconic moments, not only in prose but the colour and era aesthetics. Shifting aspect ratios mimic instruments used to invade a life never far away from the destruction of a flashbulb, a hyperactive stylistic choice that annoyed some, but didn’t bother me.
Whilst the Netflix film has inevitably stirred up a lot of feelings, passionate debates and quite a lot of misplaced vitriol, what can’t be questioned is the sublime Ana de Armas, who disappears into the alluring mystique of an all-time icon in a performance for the ages. 2022 was a year for fantastic female performances, but if de Armas isn’t included on the shortlist for an Oscar due to the film’s tricky reception, it will surely go down as one of the worst snubs of all time.
Rather than ostracised, Dominick, de Armas, et al, should be commended for their fearlessness in refusing to sugarcoat their movie. The liberties taken with real lives and events are undeniably a bold move, and I understand how this could be harmful to fans, as well as those who walked in on the assumption this was some sort of legitimate biography.
But I put it to you like this: strip away the real-world connections and further distort the truth of these events. Do you think this film would still stir up the same kind of storm? I don’t think so. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Blonde finds itself subject to considerable critical reassessment from those who go back for another watch. Or, dare I say, actually give it a fair chance.
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