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By Megan Bianco
Andrew Dominik’s new historical drama, Blonde, has to be one of the most hateful films I’ve ever seen. Here, Marilyn Monroe (Ana de Armas) isn’t a success story, despite her short life. She’s the tragic victim of lifelong abuse and depression until the bitter end.
Those interesting stories of her living in foster homes, working at a factory and getting married during her teen years as Norma Jeane Baker? Nowhere to be found. The two classics she made with director John Huston, The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and The Misfits (1961)—the latter of which was her final film? Nowhere in sight.
Where is Marilyn’s equally successful and hilarious former roommate and close friend, Shelley Winters? Couldn’t tell you, myself. When we see Marilyn studying with legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg or auditioning for movies like Roy Ward Baker’s Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), she is portrayed as out of her element and insecure.
Anytime Marilyn or Norma Jeane is rewarded or acknowledged, it’s for her looks or sexuality—not her intelligence and great sense of humor, as people in her real life later confirmed existed, and debunked her as the bubbly bimbo she was typecast as.
Instead, Dominik and Joyce Carol Oates (author of the 2000 novel on which Blonde is based) focus on fabrications including a ménage-à-trois between the starlet, Charlie Chaplin’s son, Cass (Xavier Samuel), and Edward G. Robinson, Jr. (Evan Williams).
The real Norma Jeane spent the latter half of her childhood as an orphan because her mother, Gladys, was institutionalized following a mental breakdown. But Gladys (played by Julianne Nicholson in Blonde) didn’t attempt to drown her own child during a psychotic break, as seen on film.
Marilyn never met her real father, but I have a feeling she wasn’t obsessively haunted by his absence to the point of hysteria, as shown in Blonde.
De Armas—who actually does well occasionally with the limited material—is apparently given direction for only three emotions: sad, perplexed and orgasmic.
No doubt, Marilyn Monroe had her hardships, especially regarding the men in her life. But to replace her real tragedies—such as her inability to successfully carry through a pregnancy because of endometriosis—with three rape scenes and an abortion (all that definitely did not happen) is distasteful and grotesque.
People have consistently praised Chayse Irvin’s black-and-white and color cinematography, and Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score for Blonde, which I can agree with. I also thought Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody as two of Marilyn’s husbands, baseball star Joe DiMaggio and respected author Arthur Miller, respectively, would have been great casting.
But what sinks Blonde as a film the most is that Dominik clearly has no respect or interest in Marilyn, the person. Which asks the question: why does this movie even exist? If Dominik wanted to make an allegory to how abusive Hollywood is, he could have easily created a fictional actress loosely inspired by Marilyn or Jayne Mansfield or Jean Harlow.
For an appropriate depiction of the real Marilyn Monroe, look up some of her interviews and archival footage uploaded on YouTube, or listen to stories told by her old costars and friends. Revisit or introduce yourself to her best features. Because Blonde as a cinematic experience remarkably fails.