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BLONDE (2022) movie review

BLONDE is directed by Andrew Dominik; it’s based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates. The film stars Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, Julianne Nicholson, Lily Fisher, Toby Huss, Caspar Phillipson, and Dan Butler. This film is not to be confused with the CBS mini-series adaptation of the same name from 2001. The film will have a limited theatrical release on September 16, 2022, with the streaming release on Netflix following on September 28.

Norma Jeane Baker, who grows up to become famed actress Marilyn Monroe, suffers in her childhood with a mentally unstable abusive mother and her lack of a father. Following being sent to an orphanage, she becomes an iconic starlet, starring in some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. But her inner demons behind the scenes, throughout troubled movie shoots, greater ambitions, and drug and alcohol abuse, continue and send her into a downward spiral, which culminates in her death in 1962 at age 36.

Is there anyone on the face of the planet who doesn’t know who Marilyn Monroe is? She may very well be the most famous movie star of all time, and with her beauty, screen presence, sassy attitude, and intriguing life story, it’s not hard to see why. The fact that she’s still the subject of many a documentary, biopic, book, article, and everything in between speaks for itself. She was larger than life, as famous as she’s ever been even over 60 years after her death.

Ana de Armas is given the daunting task of bringing this Hollywood icon to life, while director Andrew Dominik takes on the challenge of doing a female-centric film for the first time in his career. BLONDE is a movie that has a lot to live up to, but this critic and fan of old school Hollywood is happy to say it succeeds, for the most part. Casting is great, the filming and cinematography are fantastic, and it tells a mostly complete story that’s gripping and impressive, managing to keep the attention of viewers with its unflinchingly shocking tone (the film got an NC-17 rating from the MPA). It does lag slightly in terms of its overlong running time and a few questionable narrative decisions, and I certainly can’t fully speak for its historical accuracy (the film is based on a novel on Monroe that’s essentially a fictionalized take on her life), but the film hits more often than it misses.

The casting of Ana de Armas was somewhat controversial due to her ethnic descent being different from that of the real Marilyn Monroe, but this young lady manages to impress me in every role she plays. I’m happy to say her portrayal of Ms. Monroe doesn’t disappoint; she effectively becomes Marilyn from start to finish. Any doubts you have about her ability to play this iconic starlet from Hollywood’s classic era quickly dissipate. Whether she’s trying to reconnect with her estranged mother, fighting her inner demons, or falling in love again, de Armas owns this role. Monroe’s estate spoke positively of de Armas’ casting, and I’m pleased to say I can wholeheartedly agree. The real Marilyn Monroe was a woman with many inner demons but also one with the ambition to better herself as an actress, and it’s well reflected in this film. Hopefully the Academy will stand up and take notice of de Armas’ work here.

This is Ana de Armas’ movie, no questions asked, but the supporting cast is nearly as impressive. Highlights of the cast include Bobby Cannavale as Joe DiMaggio, Adrien Brody as Arthur Miller, and Caspar Phillipson as then-resident John F. Kennedy (he’s also portrayed Kennedy in a handful of other movies and TV shows).

One true standout in the cast who deserves a special mention is young Lily Fisher, who portrays Monroe as a young girl, dealing with her abusive mother. The innocence, fear, and vulnerability this young lady brings to the role makes for an interesting contrast with the woman Monroe will later become. While the scenes with Fisher don’t last too long, she makes an impact. Whether she’s inquisitive about her missing father, running nude from a bath in which her mother tried to drown her as she desperately seeks help, or being dropped at an orphanage by the foster parents she thought she could trust, the pain and ordeals suffered by this girl beautifully set the stage for the demons eventually faced by the adult Marilyn Monroe. I loved Fisher’s performance in this movie, and truly hope she moves forward to the acting career she deserves, not the mention I admire her for the guts it must have taken for her to accept the challenges a role like this presented.

The tone of the movie holds nothing back. As was previously stated, the MPA has given BLONDE an NC-17 rating, no doubt due to its subject matter. At no point does this movie attempt to glamorize the life of Marilyn Monroe. While she’s a beauty in the public light and loved by many, the behind-the-scenes look at her ordeal is brutally honest. By the time the third act rolls around, she’s seldom seen without a drink and pills in her hands. The movie doesn’t shield audiences from her sexual escapades and the men who abused her physically and sexually. BLONDE hits hard, and it’s effective as hell at what it does.

Also not to be overlooked is the gorgeous cinematography. Cinematographer Chayse Irvin shoots the film primarily in a 4:3 ratio; this typically isn’t seen much in modern big-screen films anymore. The ratio occasionally shifts when the film or certain shots call for it, and this works surprisingly well. The movie also regularly shifts between color and black-and-white photography, again depending upon what the scenes in question require. The visual impact of the film is no less effective than its subject matter.

A handful of elements in the film don’t work. The biggest offender here are CGI scenes of unborn babies shown at the various times Monroe is pregnant; these images are bizarre and feel out of place, looking more like they belong at the end of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Similarly, the overlong running time’s necessity is questionable, and the narrative structure can be clumsy at times. BLONDE has as much in common with art films as it does biopics, which is simultaneously one of the production’s greatest strengths and weaknesses.

BLONDE is an NC-17-rated journey into the life of one of Hollywood’s greatest icons. It’s unflinching, brutal, and effective for all it isn’t afraid to do. The movie’s certainly not going to be for everyone; prudes, the squeamish, and the easily offended should certainly take their business elsewhere. Minor flaws aside, the movie entertains and impresses. I highly recommend the film, but I won’t deny that what’s here won’t be for everybody.

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