Saturday, March 11, 2023


Film: Blonde
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

I can’t say I went in to Blonde with anything other than trepidation. I’d heard enough about it, and nothing really that good about it, so I watched it mostly out of obligation. I decided to get as many movies as possible watched before the Oscars ceremony tomorrow (I’ll still have a lot to do), and this was the longest one I had left that I have immediate access to. And, aside from the Avatar sequel, it’s the one I didn’t want to watch the most.

I’ll say about Blonde something I said about Elvis. Critic Mark Kermode, in his epic takedown of Sex and the City 2 commented that in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick took us from the birth of the human species to the birth of the next species in 2 hours and 29 minutes, while SatC 2 is 2 hours and 26 minutes and goes essentially nowhere. Blonde is 2:47, nearly three hours.

This is the story of Marilyn Monroe/Norma Jean Baker (Ana de Armas, but Vanessa Lemonides for any singing parts) as told, honestly, about as exploitatively as possible. We’re going to start with her as a young child (played in these parts by Lily Fisher) being separated from her mother Gladys (Julianne Nicholson), who is clearly mentally unstable. We see her transformation into Marilyn during an unpleasant casting couch sequence and then her time as a throuple with Cass Chaplin (Xavier Samuel) and Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams). We’re also going to get some time with her abusive marriage to Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) and her tragic marriage to Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody).

And, of course, we’re going to get a number of snippets from her professional career. We’ll see her in some of her roles, both on screen and off-screen. Many of the off-screen parts are going to show her as frantic, worried about perception of her, wanting to be taken seriously as both an actress and someone with a mind, and knowing on some level that it would never happen. And so naturally there is a great deal of tragedy here, but we’re not going to see through anything but the most distorted of lenses.

We’re also going to get a lot of daddy issues. One of the things that will be played up at the beginning is Norma Jean’s feelings of abandonment from her father. Much of her mother’s mental imbalance seems to stem from her feeling abandoned by Norma Jean’s father. And, subsequently, many of Norma Jean’s/Marilyn’s mental instability issues seems to come from the same place. It’s a bit on the nose here—she calls both DiMaggio and Miller “Daddy,” which may or may not be based on fact, but definitely has the effect of infantilizing her.

And, of course, much like the Elvis movie, we’re going to witness the slow descent into drugs and alcohol leading up to the inevitable conclusion. Even if you didn’t know the story, you could see where this was going to go.

There are a few things to talk about here, both in terms of the reason that I watched this and the movie itself. I watched this because on this blog I watch all of the nominees for a number of Oscars, including Best Actress. Ana de Armas is the best part of Blonde, but she is not without some serious issues in the performance. The main one is her accent. She has several scenes where her native Cuban accent isn’t really noticeable, but that’s not always the case—there are a number of scenes where she is clearly speaking with an accent that she is disguising as much as she can, and not very successfully. The problem is that just about everything about Marilyn Monroe is and was iconic, including her voice. She gets the look down pretty well, but the voice doesn’t fit. I like de Armas, but this is “Kevin Costner as Robin Hood” levels of problematic accent. At least she tried.

The movie itself, though, is a trainwreck and a very long trainwreck. At close to three hours long, it feels interminable, and since so much of it is designed to elicit pity for the terrible life situations that Norma Jean is forced into, it’s made to frequently feel tawdry and overtly sexually exploitative, including a scene that essentially shows us an abortion from her uterus. There’s frequent nudity for no reason, for instance. When Joe DiMaggio is going to slap his wife around, there’s no reason for her to be topless except to connect back on a real level to the nudie-cutie/roughie sexploitation films. There’s a lot of this, starting from the casting couch and the rough threesomes and eventually culminates in a blowjob sequence with a guy representing JFK.

It's worth noting that this review is being written and posted literally the day after Blonde received two Razzie awards, one for screenplay and one for Worst Picture. While I haven’t seen all of the other nominees, I can’t say it didn’t earn them. So far, it’s the worst movie I’ve seen this year, and in a year where I watched The Invitation, that’s saying something.

We’ve had better movies about Marilyn. Go watch My Week with Marilyn twice. Twice through is only a little bit longer, and you’ll enjoy it more.

Why to watch Blonde: You can convince yourself it’s a story that needs to be told.
Why not to watch: It’s exploitative in the extreme.


  1. You know I'm a huge movie fan and a huge Marilyn fan and have watched other treatments of her life (and read extensively about her as well) but because of all the negative things I've read and heard I have zero interest in tracking this down.

    First of all let the poor woman rest in peace! But if we must have yet another version of her life why not look at her in all her complexity, because there is no question she was a complicated person, and how the intricacies of her being were affected by the time she lived in and the business she both struggled with and dominated. Not some salacious pile of exploitive tripe directed by someone who apparently holds her in utter contempt, I've read some quotes by from Dominik and he truly seems to hate Marilyn. So why was he chosen? One of the saddest ironies of all this is that during her lifetime Marilyn was offered a chance to portray Jean Harlow (something she very much desired ) but after reading the salacious, mostly fictitious script turned it down flat saying "I hope they never do that to me when I'm dead!"

    And for the record in all I've read I've never once heard that Marilyn called any of her husbands "Daddy" nor that her mother's mental problems stemmed from her husband leaving her. Mental illness ran in the family, both Marilyn's maternal grandparents (her grandfather die in an insane asylum), an uncle as well as her mother had major emotional problems so Marilyn understandably worried that she may suffer the same fate considering her often fragile psychological state.

    My Week with Marilyn wasn't bad though I don't think Michelle Williams's performance was a complete success. The closest I've ever seen anyone come to capturing Marilyn's essence was Catherine Hicks in the 1980 miniseries "Marilyn: The Untold Story" because she endeavored to show her as an actual human being with failings like us all but also many positive qualities.

    1. It is only my commitment to watching the nominees of particular categories that got me to watch this, and it's absolutely not something I would voluntarily watch again. The NC-17 rating might get some people curious, but the rating is for things that are just genuinely unpleasant. It's salacious for its own sake, and never in a way that is interesting.

      As a person, Marilyn deserves better than this collection of topless scenes, rape fixations, and blowjob sequences. Anyone who goes into this thinking it's going to be gratuitously sexy is going to be disappointed because it's not--it's just nasty and unpleasant and almost pornographic.

      You're better off without it. As I said, I haven't seen all of the other nominees for the Razzies for this year, but I can't say that this didn't rightfully earn the two that it won.

      I understand your reservation about Michelle Williams, but I like the performance. I think there's a lot of temptation to slide in something akin to caricature, and she avoids that. It was an unenviable task in a lot of ways, and I think she managed it pretty well.

  2. It just won Worst Picture at the Razzies and.... they got it wrong. I actually enjoyed this film as I saw it more as an anti-bio pic that is more about Norma Jeane rather than Marilyn Monroe. It's also a film about the male gaze and how this young woman has become a victim of this persona she created where she isn't given a voice to say anything.

    I'm having issues with the Razzies over the fact that they cowered to the public over nominating a little girl for Worst Actress. Honestly, if we can't shit on children for awful performances. What's the point of criticism as we're supposed to coddle kids by shielding them away from negativity? Fuck that!

    1. Generally, the reviews on this one have been pretty poor, but that doesn't mean that you're wrong about it. I felt it was really exploitative and unpleasant, and while I don't always mind that, it felt needless here.

      I think that the Razzies did the right thing pulling that nomination. It feels like punching down.