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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Blonde | Ana de Armas, Bobby Cannavale, Adrien Brody | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Blonde | Ana de Armas, Bobby Cannavale, Adrien Brody | Review


Based on the 700+-page book by Joyce Carol Oates, Blonde is the semi-fictionalized account of the life of Norma Jeane Baker/Marilyn Monroe (Ana de Armas). Some things are pure fact: She had a mentally ill mother (Julianne Nicholson). She starred in iconic films (Some Like It Hot, Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes). She married baseball legend Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) and playwright Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody). She committed suicide, or did she? This film alleges that she did.

Some things are pure speculation or outright invention: She was part of a sexual threesome that included namesake sons Charlie Chaplin Jr. (Xavier Samuel) and Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams). Her mother tried to drown her as a child. She had heartfelt conversations with her own unborn fetuses that made her feel guilty for not giving them life. She is flown across the country for the express purpose of fellating JFK (Caspar Phillipson).

Blonde is Monroe’s life, from age 7 (Lily Fisher) to her death at 36 from an alleged overdose. It is a gritty, sometimes brutal look at the icon with the white-blonde hair and the breathy, little girl voice.

For the majority of the film its protagonist is scared, uncomfortable, distressed, worried, and hurt. Hollywood’s casting couch is a given. Men drape her in their unsavory leers and comments. Domestic violence follows her from her childhood with a nightmarish schizophrenic mother to her adult relationships with producers and husbands. She calls her husbands “daddy.”

Like a snapshot come to life, this Marilyn seems fixed in place, her look, persona, and voice anchored in her heyday. The breathy voice never really goes away. In real life, Marilyn had a normal speaking voice. She wasn’t always in front of a camera. Here, she is, and writer/director Andrew Dominik (This Much I Know To Be True) makes sure we know it.

Three hours long and excruciating in many segments, Blonde is no cookie cutter effort. The weaving of color and black and white segments served to underscore the turmoil that’s just under the surface of Monroe’s flawless skin. Sordid sexual romps and topless scenes appear with surprising frequency. Marilyn asserts that within her live two personas, Norma Jeane, the real human being, and Marilyn Monroe, the sexually charged creation.

The source material does not shy away from the gritty vortex of human existence, and Oates’ prose comes to life on the screen, supplemented by Dominik’s screenplay, complete with nightmarish dream sequences where even Monroe’s cervix is invaded. There is absolutely no privacy for this woman. Dominik disparages but embraces the male gaze and feeds it to the viewer in a way that can be argued as either exploitation or accusation.

Blonde is performance driven, with de Armas a forerunner for an Academy Award nomination sue to the daring nature of her performance – a vulnerable, insecure “object” lacking agency, respect, or validation, except when it came to sexual utility; a fragile being of light in a dirty concrete world of sharp edges and unforgiving judgments, pegged as simply a sentient piece of meat to be consumed.

Almost a physical bullseye for Monroe, de Armas holds her blue eyes a little too wide throughout the film. The real Monroe’s were frequently narrowed in a sleepy bedroom way. Monroe had a slightly longer face and did not employ a constant vocal breathiness in her private life. Aside from this, noticeable only because the camera lingers there so often, the Cuban de Armas channels the essence of the icon so well that the viewer can get lost in the illusion.

You can’t get more Marilyn than that.

The film has its problems: gratuitous and over the top in some scenes (JFK, interior cervix, fetus dialogue) but none of this is de Armas’ fault. She shines through like a beacon of pure, unadulterated light, and every single chick (four) in this review is for her.


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