I start this review with something important. Trigger Warning. Blonde made news earlier this year when it was announced the Marilyn Monroe pseudo-biopic would be rated NC-17. At that point, we weren’t sure what that meant. Well, it turns out, it means everything. Andrew Dominik’s new feature brings everything to the table: consensual and non-consensual sex, nudity, violence, suicide, graphic depictions of abortion, child abuse … and a lot of this is in the first hour.

Usually, I like to start with some deeper thought, but readers need to be aware of this. Know your limits. This film is a lot and absolutely none of it is easy. If you’re all set with the above, here’s everything you need to know about Blonde.

Blonde is a fictionalized retelling of Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe’s (Ana de Armas) life. Nothing is off-limits. The narrative begins in childhood as her mother (Julianne Nicholson) struggles with mental illness. We see Monroe rise to stardom and her “fairy tale” marriages before things spiral out of control, leading to her fatal drug overdose. Adrien Brody and Bobby Cannavale co-star in the movie. Andrew Dominik directs the film from his script. Blonde is based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel of the same name.

Ana de Armas recreates an iconic scene as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde.

Diving right in, Blonde fights a hard battle as it relates to perspective. While the movie brings all the hallmarks of a biopic, Blonde can and should be considered a work of historical fiction. After all, this is based on a novel. Though, the look and feel of this motion picture simmer inside a deceptive gray area.

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On a fictional film, a creative team shouldn’t be beholden to history. Unfortunately, though, Blonde follows real people who lived real lives and suffered very real trauma. I am not a Marilyn Monroe scholar, so I am unable to evaluate Blonde through a historical lens.

Though, when examining a persona as highly manufactured as Marilyn Monroe’s was, few will really be able to. The metaphorical line separating reality and fiction is incredibly blurry. So, while Netflix hypes this film as a work of fiction, the very fact this deals with real people complicates the situation. Blonde is capable of permanently changing the Marilyn Monroe narrative, and not necessarily for the better.

Ana de Armas recreates an iconic Marilyn Monroe moment in Blonde.

As mentioned, I am not a Marilyn Monroe historian, and frankly, how many Hollywood films always get the details right? There will certainly be biographical inaccuracies, but I’m choosing to leave that to more learned historians. This is classified as a work of historical fiction and the figures onscreen ultimately are characters.

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So, to put a little needed context to this review, I’m framing this examination of Blonde to look at the film as a piece of historical fiction rather than a purely historical work. 

When Netflix announced Blonde, the biggest questions surrounding this movie revolved around Ana de Armas playing Monroe. It is clear the actress shares a striking resemblance with the legendary movie star.

Ana de Armas poses as Marilyn Monroe

To be honest, in a handful of scenes I wasn’t sure if I was seeing Monroe or de Armas. Likewise, there are only a handful of instances where de Armas couldn’t quite nail Monroe’s iconic babydoll coo. It’s a heck of a performance, undoubtedly the caliber capable of making her a frontrunner come awards season.

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Unfortunately, it seems surprising to say that in this Marilyn Monroe story, de Armas doesn’t have enough to do. She slays what she’s given. However, this movie is best described as “Marilyn Monroe torture porn.” The actress spends most of the film’s roughly 160-minute runtime with tears streaming down her face for one reason or another.

This is not a qualm against de Armas’s performance. She is acting to the script she’s been given. It seems unfortunate for all involved that Dominik’s script has no interest in exploring Monroe, or truly, any of these characters. His singular focus is exploring the hell this woman endures. 

Bobby Canavale and Ana de Armas recreate a moment as Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio in Blonde.

Despite telling a linear story, there is no sense of narrative to Blonde. Instead, Dominik’s script feels structured in seemingly isolated moments.

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Things happen to Monroe with no buildup or development. It almost feels “stream of consciousness,” but the script itself has no awareness of why events happen. Things occur with no understanding of how Monroe ended up where she is. We don’t see the progression. The actress is passively out of control in her own life as she bounces from one horrible moment to the next. 

Honestly? Blonde does a disservice to Ana de Armas as a performer. This could (and may still) be an awards-caliber part. However, it doesn’t allow her to truly explore Monroe as a fully formed individual. Strangely, de Armas is always in “Monroe” mode and this feels disingenuous.

Adrien Brody gazes at Ana de Armas in Blonde.

Even in the intensely personal moments with her mother or when she’s dealing with the men in her life, she is always “Marilyn Monroe.” The voice never shifts, and neither does her appearance or persona. If Blonde is truly interested in exploring Marilyn Monroe as a woman, we should actually see “Norma Jeane” at some point.  

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At the same time, Blonde is fascinated by an apparent “daddy” fixation as it relates to Monroe’s lovers. However, the script is so interested in hopping from one traumatic event to the next that it doesn’t stop to explore these relationships. 

Joe DiMaggio (Cannavale) is hardly a factor in this film. He appears in approximately four scenes: the couple’s first date, the marriage proposal, a post-wedding scene and the metaphorical end of their marriage. There’s no sense of humanity in their relationship. Things are never truly happy. As a result, it’s hard to appreciate why the bond formed. One moment, he’s proposing; in the next, he’s beating her senseless. (As I said in the intro … this entire movie is one gigantic trigger warning.)

Ana de Armas is made up as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde.

Weirdly, the movie has more fondness for Arthur Miller (Brody) than for any of the other characters, including Marilyn Monroe. When Monroe meets and quickly marries the playwright, the narrative comes to a screeching halt.  

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Strangely, Miller is the only character who gets moments of interiority. He is granted scenes alone to talk about the relationship and his struggles to understand his wife (which he truly wants to do).

During their marriage, for some reason, we see the relationship through Miller’s eyes. For those familiar with the history, this is a choice that is befuddling and frustrating. Even from a strictly narrative perspective, it feels off-putting. Despite this, Miller simply vanishes from the story like every other figure in Monroe’s life. 

This all builds to a disappointing and demoralizing third act. Marilyn Monroe’s death is common knowledge, so I’m not sure we can avoid spoilers here.

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The third act finds Monroe in a haze of drugs (which seem to be the only things allowing her to cope.) However, this is perhaps an intentional choice by Dominik. It keeps her in a haze. There’s no real hint as to when the drug abuse starts. All of a sudden, it’s there. There’s no setup or development (which would grant Monroe’s character the development she desperately needs.) However, as she begins shooting Some Like It Hot, she can no longer function. 

It is during this point in the narrative when the film introduces President Kennedy, only to drop him one graphic sex scene (with questionable consent) later. His purpose in the script is simply to receive oral sex and verbally demean Monroe.

Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe, walking through a crowd of people.

In fact, those unfamiliar with the story might not even realize this is supposed to be John F. Kennedy. It’s not like he receives any character development. As the scene plays out, Monroe is the sex worker, he is the “John.” That’s it. For yet another powerful (and complicated) relationship in Marilyn Monroe’s life, little is done to explore it.

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Choices like these are ultimately why this movie feels manipulative and rooted in hatred for Marilyn Monroe. While these actors (particularly Ana de Armas) do everything they can to bring powerful performances, this script is not interested in anyone’s humanity (outside of maybe Arthur Miller.) Blonde is only interested in an examination of pain and suffering. No one should go through what Marilyn Monroe does in this film. It is impossible to see in any way how this movie comes from a place of love. Blonde is riveted by the pain and misery of a woman who deserved so much better. 

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Blonde is available to stream on Netflix on September 28, 2022. 

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