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  • Benjamin May

Blonde (2022) Review

A lyric written by the great Bryan Ferry repeatedly came to mind whilst watching 'Blonde' and thinking of director Andrew Dominik: "why in the world are you so cruel?" Based on the novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, Dominik's 'Blonde' purports to tell the story of Marilyn Monroe, warts and all; but really just exploits her and her legacy in a tawdry, pretentious and unnecessarily meanspirited fashion. The film is one note, melodramatic and uncomfortable to watch; a long, winding, needless "biopic" that insults the icon at its' centre- as well as the viewing audience.

Everybody knows Marilyn Monroe; she is an icon whose image still pervades popular culture. She gave brilliant performances in some terrific films, 'Some Like It Hot', 'The Misfits' and 'The Seven Year Itch' to name but three. She was a pin-up girl and a sex symbol, a curvaceous, buxom blonde men wanted to be with and women wanted to be. She was beloved, the biggest star of her time; though the spotlight can be a terrible place to find oneself. Watched from all angles and at all times by leering fans and media men, she assuredly had a tough life lacking in privacy or dignity; and was almost certainly taken advantage of. To say she had mental health issues is probably not out of hand. All in all, she's a character whose life and image is ripe for adaptation.

Dominik's version of her story, though, is pitifully, painfully inaccurate, indecent and repetitive. His Marilyn is a naïve, wide-eyed bundle of insecurities and mental illnesses, who not only can't stand up for herself; but also doesn't seem particularly talented. Dominik's story reduces Monroe to little more than a walking sex-conduit, dwelling not on her artistic achievements or abilities, but on the fictional abuse the director makes the character suffer again and again throughout the film. Dominik subjects the audience to scene after scene of assault, with no relief until the end credits; so that the viewer leaves the film weary, depressed and lacking faith in humanity.

Why did Dominik decide to make Monroe's life so unremittingly miserable? Why does he drag through the muck the likes of John F. Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin Jr, portraying them as brutish cads? Why couldn't there have been a few scenes of Monroe enjoying her fame, or having a nice, quiet time with Arthur Miller, without the continued hammering home of the point of abuse and cruelty? Dominik clearly thinks that the film has immense power, and is commenting on the male gaze in an intelligent manner. It really isn't though; it's pop-psychology that a five-year-old could elucidate upon more eloquently. Additionally, the dialogue never rises above the quality of a soap opera, and is so overblown, pretentious and stilted that it'll actually make you snigger with disbelief.

Chayse Irvin's cinematography is also problematic. He has no natural style or approach, producing haphazard, tiring and excessively stylized visuals. One moment, the film is in black and white, then it's in colour; while the aspect ratio seems to shift from second to second. Irvin also throws in random point of view shots that add absolutely nothing to the film. Additionally, Adam Robinson's editing is loose, which makes the narrative muddled and fragmentary. Time in 'Blonde' means nothing, so that one minute Monroe is married to Joe DiMaggio, making 'Some Like It Hot' the next, then carrying Arthur Miller's baby. It is confusing- unnecessarily so- and Robinson must take some of the blame for his work is mediocre.

'Blonde' has a score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, two fine musicians who seem to have forgotten the phrase 'less is more.' Their synthesised soundtrack distractingly dominates scenes, occasionally obscuring lines of dialogue. The sound mixers may be more at fault than Cave and Ellis, but even if their score was played at the right volume; it wouldn't impress. The songs sound like B-sides from the last Bad Seeds album that Cave couldn't come up with lyrics to. There is one particular piece by the name of 'Nembutal' that stands out from the rest- and not for a good reason. Any fan of 'Twin Peaks' and Angelo Badalamenti will immediately recognise it as sounding uncannily like 'Laura Palmer's Theme,' making one wonder how impactful the soundtrack could have been had Badalamenti gotten the gig.

Which brings us around to Ana de Armas, the star of 'Blonde.' It was never going to be easy to cast Marilyn Monroe (though 'Twin Peaks' Sherilyn Fenn would have been terrific back in the 90's) and de Armas is not the obvious choice. She is an actress some rave about, though this reviewer doesn't think she's been particularly impressive in anything yet; and certainly not in 'Blonde.' She plays Monroe as a one-note naïf with constant doe eyes, on the verge of exploding into tears at any and every moment. Her accent is also a problem. Many say she sounds just like Monroe, and those people need to get their hearing checked. Monroe had a breathy voice; de Armas sounds out of breath. Also- and don't even bother trying to deny this- de Armas's Cuban accent is strong, distracting and thoroughly un-Monroe.

All in all, de Armas's performance comes across like a half-hearted impression done by some vaguely disinterested waitress at the Jack Rabbit Slims from 'Pulp Fiction.' She isn't abysmal, but it's not a piece of acting to be lauded; nor is it an accurate portrayal of Monroe (who, one might add, is notoriously easy to impersonate). There are a few bright lights from the supporting cast, but they're tragically underused- Adrian Brody and Bobby Cannavale most notably. The rest tend towards overacting; with Xavier Samuel's smug performance as Charlie Chaplin Jr being particularly offensive and monotonous.

Andrew Dominik's 'Blonde' is an odious, distressing melodrama that is over-long and over-blown; a smutty, pretentious cesspit attempting to rewrite the story of a cinematic legend. If you are a fan of Marilyn Monroe, please don't watch the film; it'll just infuriate you. The screenplay is full of trite dialogue, bland characters and unnecessarily brutal sequences that make Eli Roth's 'Hostel' look positively life-affirming. Based on a work of fiction but calling itself a biopic, 'Blonde' is an extremely long and incredibly cruel film powered by pop-psychology of an Oedipal variety that would make Freud shudder. It is- in short- a morose, meanspirited melodrama that will surely make you miserable.


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