Let’s be frank. Do we really need another retelling of the Marilyn Monroe story?
Really, is there anyone even remotely interested in learning the details of Norma Jeane Mortensen’s life and career who doesn’t already know it pretty much by heart?
That’s what filmmaker Andrew Dominik, and the rest of us, are up against with Blonde: how to come up with a new package, a fresh way of explaining MM’s stranglehold on the American subconscious? In his adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 novel, Dominik solves most, but not all, of the obvious problems with a heavy handful of style.
Monroe is the all-time champ of “troubled” showbiz celebrities. Dominik parades her troubles across the screen with enough “disjointed, distorted, hallucinatory” glee (those are author Oates’ words) to satisfy the most ghoulish film fanatic.
Nothing bothers Norma Jeane more than the specter of her missing father, leering down from a framed, smudged photo on the wall. Young actor Lily Fisher is also sadly memorable as the poor kid herself.
Through it all, Armas is certifiably gorgeous and her impersonation is spotless. Meanwhile Monroe’s tormentors, notably a pair of Hollywood vultures (Evan Williams, Xavier Samuel), are almost as loathsome as another latter-day sugar daddy, The President (Caspar Phillipson), a JFK-like barbarian who gets hurry-up blow jobs while a Secret Service goon watches.
Life as a world-famous sexual plaything is unbearable. Everyone knows that and yet everyone idolizes Monroe, from the Italian-American housewives in the kitchen of The Ex-Athlete (Bobby Cannavale, channeling Joe DiMaggio) to the crowd of ugly, contorted male faces howling for more skin during the frantic Seven Year Itch subway grate wind-up-the-skirt scene.
One lover who seems to understand Monroe is The Playwright, aka Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody), who like everyone else is astounded that this “dumb blonde” has actually read Chekhov. He believes in her, despite her inadequacy jitters and pills. As if to console us for witnessing such distress, the music score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is absolutely gorgeous, to go along with Chayse Irvin’s cinematography.
Blonde is part of the reason why some people distrust movies. Real life never quite measures up to the dream, especially when the dream is wrapped up in the story of the sexiest, most irresistible star of them all. Blame Daddy.