When you hear that there’s a new movie about Marilyn Monroe, you’d probably expect it to be a biopic. That wouldn’t be an unreasonable guess given the popularity of biopics in recent years. Netflix’s new film “Blonde,” released on Sept. 28, is not a biopic though. It’s a fictionalized account of Monroe’s life based on the novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, full of drama, scandals and CGI fetuses — in other words, cringeworthy chaos.
Clocking in at 167 minutes, watching “Blonde” is no small commitment. The movie follows Monroe’s life events, starting from her tumultuous childhood and ending with her death, portraying it all from her point of view. This is why the movie must be fictionalized: without her involvement, it isn’t possible to know her internal thoughts or what happened in her private moments. Screenwriter and director Andrew Dominik is purely speculating.
The movie moved at an overwhelming pace, stuffing in so many events and cutting abruptly between them, leaving little time for the audience to comprehend it. The audience could barely sit with the characters, especially Monroe, in the aftermath of an event, so there was little opportunity to build connection or sympathy. This doesn’t really work if it’s being told from her point of view.
There was no need for “Blonde” to be nearly three hours long. After about an hour, I had completely lost interest because I did not have enough emotional investment to care about what was happening. The movie did include many scenes meant to shock the audience, such as a rape scene 20 minutes into it. After being repeatedly exposed to these types of scenes though, it causes the audience to become desensitized, making these graphic scenes pointless yet horrifying to watch.
“Blonde” wasn’t a complete trainwreck though. Ana de Armas’ portrayal of Monroe was convincing, and no one can say that she didn’t give it her all. The film design from the costumes to the cinematography was compelling and beautiful. Dominik took risks and made bold choices in how he wanted to share the way Monroe viewed the world and I respect that. The film succeeded in the glamorous moments of the film where Monroe was portrayed most closely to her movie star persona, but that unfortunately can’t save a movie if there’s no substance underneath it.
Upon its release, “Blonde” received a great deal of criticism and backlash. With a 42% critic consensus and 32% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, it was a swing and miss on all fronts. Twitter users attacked the movie online, which is no surprise, but celebrities, such as model Emily Ratajkowski, and even Planned Parenthood added their thoughts to the mix.
Planned Parenthood criticized the movie for pushing a pro-life agenda, citing the scene when Monroe’s unborn baby “talks” to her, asking if she won’t hurt it like she did to the fetus she previously aborted. Whether or not this was intentionally portraying a pro-life sentiment, it came off as tone-deaf regardless, given the current state of abortion rights within the United States.
The biggest issue with “Blonde” comes back to its sole focus on the many tragedies of Monroe’s life. Even during moments that Monroe was seemingly happy, there was always an underlying tension, waiting for the moment when the other shoe would drop. It felt exploitative of Monroe’s pain, made worse by the knowledge that this was the trauma of a real person.
The movie also exploited Monroe’s body under the guise of depicting men’s objectification of her. It seems the movie was trying to condemn the objectification, mistreatment and abuse Monroe received from men in every area of her life. By doing this, though, the movie ended up doing the same exact thing with the excessive amount of nudity and the close-ups of her butt and crotch to showcase the objectification and demeaning comments.
In the end, taking a fictionalized approach to Marilyn Monroe’s life in any form feels disrespectful and never should have been done. I understand the fascination because her name and likeness have become a symbol for classic Hollywood, but it’s important to remember that she was a human who endured a lot of pain. Rehashing that on screen feels wrong, especially if what’s being shown isn’t necessarily accurate. If they wanted to fictionalize it, they could’ve quite literally taken a page out of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s book “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.” The inspiration from Monroe is clear, but the names and details are different because it becomes a separate story.
All of this is to say that “Blonde” wasn’t a bombshell. It just bombed.
Featured photo courtesy of Dell Publications Inc., Wikipedia.