Blonde is directed by Andrew Dominik and stars Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe with Adrien Brody and Bobby Cannavale respectively as Arthur Miller and a character credited as “Ex-Athlete” (Joe DiMaggio). The film follows Norma Jean from her troubled childhood to her transition to Marilyn Monroe and through much of her career.
Blonde’s marketing admits that it mixes fiction and non-fiction, and most of the deviations from Monroe’s history and biography have to do with leaving out counterfactuals, other events that run counter to the film’s narrative claims. Blonde centers on a thesis that depicts Monroe as a victim, one whose life was over-determined by self-centered men and a predacious Hollywood system that was unmoored from #MeToo-era ethics.
The film’s total commitment to “Monroe as victim” leads to Blonde’s strengths and drawbacks. Ana de Armas plays Monroe with brilliant vulnerability, and as an actress she’s able to “go there” in portraying Monroe’s intense emotional struggles. Additionally, there are several scenes, particularly one on a beach where a personal tragedy is immediately invaded by paparazzi. This reality-defying sequence is compelling and captures the oppressive feel of Monroe’s life, but Dominik’s over-direction doesn’t work as well in sequences where Monroe talks to her unborn child.
Ultimately, the film is myopic: Monroe’s life was as much inspired by joy as it was victimhood, and de Armas is directed to cry in virtually every scene, narrowing what she’s able to do with the character.
Blonde also runs roughshod over the reputations of some respected men, particularly DiMaggio and President Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson). So be it. Either these men were revered enough to withstand Blonde’s portrayal or their actions mean they should be taken down a few pegs.
Overall, the film feels its length by being unable or unwilling to modulate its tone. It’s a dreary, oppressive portrayal that lasts nearly three hours, and even though Blonde is too long, Ana de Armas’s acting and the interesting cinematography ultimately amount to a compelling film.