By Josh Reilly B. and George Bate
Biopics of famous stars have been appealing to moviegoers for years, with the most recent examples being Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, and Elvis. Netflix’s Blonde, a film telling the story of Marilyn Monroe that releases on September 28 on the streamer, is a far-cry from those films, both in quality and in style.
Ana de Armas takes on the role of Marilyn Monroe and is supported by an ensemble cast including Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Scoot McNairy, Xavier Samuel, and Sara Paxton. Directed and written by Andrew Dominik, known for his work on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Killing Them Softly, Blonde abandons conventions of biopic storytelling, trading away traditional, crowd-pleasing storytelling with a disturbing and visceral touch.
It’s abundantly clear fairly early on in its lengthy 166 minute runtime that Blonde is not the Marilyn Monroe biopic people would expect. makes it pretty clear right from the get go that it’s not just going to tell the story of the famous star in a traditional, crowd-pleasing and The film begins with young Norma Jeane and her abusive and mentally ill mother, who promises her young daughter that her famous, Hollywood actor father will return to them one day. It’s not long before her mother’s mental health deteriorates that Norma barely escapes being drowned in a bathtub and is placed into an orphanage. Blonde starts on an unnerving note and, for its nearly three-hour runtime, doesn’t let up.
What follows is a bloating, meandering tale characterized by frequent changes from color to black-and-white, fluctuations in aspect ratio, unintelligible non-linear storytelling, and abstract, convoluted dialogue. In this sense, director Andrew Dominik manages to make a better David Lynch-inspired horror film than a Marilyn Monroe biopic. The score, sound design, cinematography, and acting make it such that Blonde is far scarier and more haunting than most modern horror films, a strange statement to make about a Marilyn Monroe biopic.
All of this makes for quite a difficult watch. Many have already compared this to the work of David Lynch, and the inspirations there are apparent. However, with many of his films, Lynch adds a certain charm and enjoyable aspect, something for the viewers to find comfort in almost. A prime example of this would be the chipper and genuine nature of Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks, a character who always has a smile on his face even as terrifying inter-dimensional demons lurk in the shadows. Blonde doesn’t really have that charm, making it a more cumbersome watch and one that is certainly meant to be uncomfortable. Some viewers might be fond of that sort of experience, yet fans of Hereditary and Mother! might want to tune in here. Nonetheless, Blonde is not for the faint of heart.
Amidst this unexpected horror film meets biopic, Ana de Armas excels in the leading role. de Armas shares limited physical resemblance to Monroe and it takes a little bit before really absorbing that she indeed playing the superstar blonde bombshell. de Armas plays into these horror elements with a truly disturbing performance and showcases her excellent range here as well. In 2019, she starred in Knives Out as a bright eyed, innocent young nurse, yet in Blonde it looks as if she has decades of pain behind her eyes. Her ability to go from one end of the spectrum to the other is commendable, and she seems set to earn an Academy Award nomination here (and deservedly so).
Ultimately, Blonde serves as a film that is admirable in its boldness and novelty, but disappointing in its sheer discomfort. That is, after all, by design. The lengthy runtime only adds to the difficult nature of viewing this film, and it seems likely that some audiences will click away pretty early on. It’s certainly not for everyone, but will be a treat for a particular niche audience.
Blonde has an excellent leading performance from star Ana de Armas, but is a difficult and disturbing watch. The slow paced nature and genuinely terrifying nature of the events that unfold (and the way the story is told) are all designed to make the audience uncomfortable during viewing. Blonde feels more like a Lynchian dream of the life of Marilyn Monroe than reality, despite the presence of some real elements, and one’s own opinion on it will certainly be determined by their personal preference.