The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Netflix] - BLONDE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Netflix] - BLONDE

blonde review
A reimagining of the life of Marilyn Monroe.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Andrew Dominik

Starring: Ana de Armas, Bobby Cannavale, Adrien Brody, Julianne Nicholson, Xavier Samuel, Evan Williams

blonde poster

Hot on the sequined heels of Baz Luhrmann's Elvis, another Australian filmmaker "treats" us to their take on an American pop culture icon. If Luhrmann's film felt like it was fuelled by cocaine, Andrew Dominik's Blonde (adapted form the Joyce Carol Oates novel of the same name) is closer to heroin. It's a scuzzy, grimey take on the life of Marilyn Monroe that focusses almost exclusively on her troubles, the negative of Tim Burton's Ed Wood.

blonde review

is a product of a growing school of pseudo-feminism that seems more interested in taking down men than propping up women. Rather than celebrating Monroe's achievements it rubs our faces in her torment at the hands of powerful men, reducing her to nothing more than a victim. Sequences are set up with the sole intention of humiliating the actress, like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown at the last second. Dominik uses Monroe like a voodoo doll, constantly jabbing her with pins in the hopes of wounding the patriarchy...or something. The only male figure in the movie who isn't a scumbag is Monroe's make-up artist, who of course is gay, because something something cis men.

David Lynch was famously set to make a Monroe biopic before he transposed the image of America's sweetheart onto Twin Peaks' tragic prom queen Laura Palmer. At the time of its release, it was heavily surmised that Fire Walk with Me represented Lynch making that Monroe movie in a different form. Like Dominik's film, Fire Walk with Me forces us to watch as its blonde heroine is tortured and defiled, both physically and psychologically. The difference is that Lynch gave us two seasons of a TV show to get to know Palmer, and it's clear that she's a character he cares about. You never get the impression that Dominik gives two hoots about Monroe - she's simply a convenient sharp stone against which he's grinding an axe.

blonde review

Dominik introduces the then Norma Jeane as a child whose mother (Julianne Nicholson) spins her a lie about the father she'll never meet. It's surmised that much of Monroe's life is dominated by Daddy issues, with the actress even referring to future husbands Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) and Arthur Miller as "Daddy" (Adrien Brody). After a brief look at her troubled childhood, the movie shoots forward to revel in her troubled adulthood. We watch as she's raped on the casting couch, exploited by the Leopold and Loeb-esque Cass Chaplin (Xavier Samuel) and Eddy Robinson Jr (Evan Williams) in a menage a trois relationship, beaten by DiMaggio for flaunting her body, forced to have an abortion, enduring a miscarriage and so on. A lot of it is gruelling, as exploitative in its own way as the infamous Mary Millington's True Confessions (I suspect Dominik is familiar with Millington as Blonde nods to The Great Rock 'n Roll Swindle in points). Some of it is simply laughably mishandled, like Monroe's first encounter with JFK (Caspar Phillipson), a scene that attempts to evoke Oliver Stone with its images of rockets taking off as the President orgasms.

Managing to emerge from this fiasco with some dignity is Ana de Armas. She does a very fine impression of Monroe, though that's all it really is, an impression. That's not a knock on de Armas, it's simply all the film asks of her. We never feel like we're watching the real Monroe, if there ever was such a thing, because de Armas' performance seems based on Monroe's acting. But that may well be the point, that Monroe's life was merely an act.

blonde review

By portraying Monroe solely as a victim, the film removes her agency. The actress is always held up as a counterpoint to the dumb blonde stereotype, given how well read and seemingly intelligent she was, but the movie never conveys this side of the star. Whenever Monroe tells someone that she's read Dostoevsky or Chekhov she's met with condescending guffaws, but this shallow version of Monroe doesn't convince as someone with such interests. Dominik surrounds Monroe with leering men who see her only as a piece of meat, but that's how his own film views her. He doesn't care about Monroe the human, just Monroe the victim. Anyone introduced to Monroe through this film (it should be mentioned that not one of her movies is available on Netflix) will likely come away with the impression that she only became a star because of her looks. Of course, her looks certainly didn't hurt her career, but women with Monroe's figure were stepping off busses every two minutes in Hollywood during this era. If the powerful men of Hollywood simply wanted Monroe for her body they would have just kept her holed up in an apartment. They made her a star because she had star power, and star power makes money. The world fell in love with Monroe beyond her sex appeal (her most avid fans are gay men and straight women after all), and by his seeming inability to understand that, Dominik is as superficial as the men he seeks to demonise.

 is on Netflix now.

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