Spoiler alert: Marilyn Monroe was unhappy and men were mean to her.
Aside from a brilliant performance by Ana De Armas, Blonde is a tedious film. It meditates on Marilyn’s sad life with such heaviness and sadism that you’re not even sure what the point of it all is. It’s like a slasher movie that once you see three people die brutally in the first act, none of the subsequent murders mean anything. It repeats certain patterns over and over again. The iconic uplift of her skirt by the scraping subway breeze for that In the Seven Year Itch scene? To find? She is objectified. No seriously guys! They objectify it! Let’s see it AGAIN!
The blood staining her dress when she miscarries. She fell on the beach trying to serve appetizers. The photo of his father who is not really his father. The POV of her vagina as she has an abortion. Blonde holds out each blow several moments longer than it should. There’s a painful scene where she can’t find a dollar to tip the delivery guy who takes forever. Marilyn owned many handbags!
BLOND ★★ (2/5 stars)
Realized by: Andre Dominique
Written by: Andre Dominique
With : Ana de Armas, Lily Fisher, Julianne Nicholson, Adrien Brody
Operating time: 166 minutes
It is well documented that Marilyn Monroe’s blowing doll persona was an act. She used it on screen to great effect. And even when the cameras weren’t rolling, she used it to charm industry gatekeepers, seduce potential lovers and win over members of the press. It’s safe to assume that she, a product of foster care, could have learned at an early age that acting helpless and adorable was key to her survival. But it was an act. She could put it aside from time to time and when she did, she could be quite witty, ambitious and shrewd. She did not become one of the biggest movie stars in the world by chance.
The main problem with Blonde is that it promotes the idea that this act of Marilyn was her true self, that it never materialized and that it was the product of a rich fantasy life induced by trauma and an inherited mental illness. And then her runaway success had nothing to do with her talent or her ambition, but largely the product of various men making her do stuff against her will because they liked her ass.
Blonde, based on Joyce Carol Oates’ novelization of Marilyn’s life, isn’t meant to be historically accurate, so I guess I shouldn’t nitpick too much. But all the liberties they take with Marilyn’s life deprive her of any agency. For example, her biographies document that Marilyn slept or dated many men who were Hollywood gatekeepers and thus helped her career. Are the men who took advantage of Marilyn in these cases essentially guilty of rape? No doubt, I would say yes.
But the way Blonde describes the start of her career: She walks into the office of a producer (known as “Mr Z”) thinking she’s auditioning for a role in a movie, he immediately sodomizes her and brutally, then she gets this role. She is then confused as to why the actual audition never takes place. Marilyn Monroe may have played the doe-eyed ingenue on screen, but she understood how the world worked. I’m pretty sure if she had slept with a producer and he then cast her in a movie, she would have known exactly why it happened.
It is documented that Marilyn Monroe was quite sexual and took many lovers. None of the sex Marilyn has in Blonde seems fun or pleasurable… or consensual. The story also suggests that as a result of her sexual activity, she had a few illegal abortions…. since carrying a baby to term would have derailed her career. In Blonde, Marilyn has two abortions. Both are against his will. It’s the complete opposite of pro-choice!
The problem with many descriptions of Marilyn’s life is that they are not really about the woman herself but about our own difficult relationship with fame, beauty, talent and sexuality. When you see someone who shines like that and has so much power over the viewer, you immediately think they are lucky and happy, but when you discover that being a famous sex symbol can be a heady burden and that its rewards are often insufficient in finding love and community, drooling over it like it’s some form of porn. Marilyn was unhappy and a lot of people were mean to her? Tell me more! Keep talking. What did Arthur Miller do to him? The studio got him to change his name? Blonde disguises schadenfreude as compassion.
What amazes me is how appalled everyone is at the way the studio has transformed her. They made him change his name! Her real name was Norma Jean! Yeah and when I worked at McDonald’s they wouldn’t let me wear my own clothes or share intimate details of my life with customers. I had to wear a uniform and advance the line. Where is my biopic?
There is this pervasive myth that Marilyn just wanted to be known to the world as Norma Jeane and the movie star known as Marilyn Monroe was a complete studio creation forced upon her. Yeah, and RuPaul really wanted to be known to the world as Andre Charles, but the transvestite police wouldn’t tolerate it! Blonde implies that all other actors and actresses in Hollywood after WWII were taken seriously, given career autonomy, were able to dress and style their hair as they wished, used their real names and have not been vetted by the press or required to participate in the publicity apparatus.
Lily Jeanine Basinger’s star machine. Being a movie star is a job. Most jobs suck. Even jobs that are callings or vocations come with some unpleasant duties. Teachers experience the joy of molding and stimulating young minds…..but they also have to submit to endless assessments, buy their own school supplies, and the system judges them largely on how their students perform on tests standardized.
Everybody’s like “oh they or they forced her to be glamorous! I’m not minimizing what it must have been like for a woman in post-war America to be such an icon of femininity and to have to carry all this cultural baggage. I don’t scoff at the idea that she might have thought being a movie star would be a great experience, but she was disappointed and found it to be harder than she thought. But the reason we still talk about her is because she was so glamorous. If they let her keep her brown hair and be called Norma Jean and be a normal girl, we wouldn’t see biopics about her. The movies she made featured the girls who dyed their hair blonde, and we were all talking about THESE girls.
Marilyn wanted to be a movie star. She managed to become one because she was quite cunning and observant. And when she became one, she was very good at being one. Yes, she was difficult to work with, but the work itself – when completed – was rarely less than sublime. There is plenty of evidence that she sought to improve her acting skills by training at the Actors studio and that she read a lot of serious literature. It becomes “oh, poor Marilyn!” She wanted to be a serious actress and they didn’t give her that opportunity. They made her play these stupid blonde roles.
Let’s unpack this: is it so strange that an extremely talented woman who was at the top of her game professionally and who, due to her fame, was able to meet many distinguished minds, artists and world leaders wanted to be good at her job , informed and well read? She had dinner with Albert Einstein, for shouting out loud! There is something very condescending in our amazement that Marilyn Monroe was able to read a book or two and how AMAZING it was. And is it so strange that a young actress could be aware of the fleeting nature of fame, might have been willing to pay her dues by being an ingenue/sex symbol for a while, and might aspire to serious acting later in life after she got old out of those roles! Is it possible that she was (gasp) ambitious?
Remember, Marilyn died at a relatively young age. The fact that we never got to see her in anything more substantial (if we call Bus Stop by Josh Logan, Some Like It Hot by Wilder and The Seven Year Itch, The Misfits by John Huston and Howard Hawks Gentlemen Prefer Blondes insubstantial) could have simply because she never aged. I’m not disputing or minimizing the fact that Hollywood has always been a horrible environment for actresses, but there are plenty of examples of leading women whose careers have truly become more rewarding and interesting and benefited from more agency getting older and less and less “fuckable”: Ginger Rogers, Joan Crawford, Jessica Lange etc.
Marilyn’s death puts a period at the end of a sentence. It crystallizes it. It seems inevitable. Yes, she was quite self-destructive, but the fact that she sought to improve her craft, exposed herself to literature, and underwent psychoanalysis indicates investments in herself that suggest she was planning on having a future. fleshy. While it’s tempting to blame “the studio” for not letting her play Hedda Gabler, it’s more likely that her death is far more responsible.
I’m not saying that Marilyn got her due because she wanted to be famous and she liked being a sex symbol. She deserved to enjoy a work environment free from sexual harassment, fair treatment by the press and privacy. She deserved the respect of the men she dated, married and/or had sex with. I just find it problematic that in order for us to feel sympathy for Marilyn’s mistreatment at the hands of Hollywood (and humanity in general), we have to tell ourselves that she never wanted to be a star first venue.
It’s a shame that Blonde isn’t good or doesn’t have anything worthwhile to say about the life of Marilyn Monroe because Ana De Armas’ performance is exquisite. She resembles him and she has captured his mannerisms and his essence. I barely noticed that Cuban accent everyone was talking about when the trailers came out. Blonde has many other distractions, none of them positive.