‘Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring’.
Famous and hard-hitting words, uttered by Marilyn Monroe herself. They can certainly be applied to Andrew Dominik’s Blonde – it certainly isn’t perfect, it’s mad but far from genius, and yet far from boring.
Monroe, the most famous of blonde bombshells, through the view of a modern day lens? Perhaps, but certainly a distorted one with no real focus – this half biographical, half fictional drama just can’t work out what type of film it wants to be.
Blonde is certainly a testing psychological affair throughout, and refuses to shy away from testing issues. Within minutes, we see a mother attempt to drown her daughter in a bath. There are rapes, drug overdoses, the descent of a young woman into madness and paranoia.
But confronting a societal problem isn’t the same as actually tackling it. Director Andrew Dominik didn’t seem to get that memo – he happily parades the problems faced by the star, but that’s about all he does.
This is not the film’s main problem, however. It’s not, as plenty of critics have attempted to point out, the fact that Dominik tries to highlight Monroe’s over-sexualisation by having Ana de Armas parade around his set with little-to-no clothing on. You can’t have your cake and eat it too – viewers can’t continually tell filmmakers to stop shying away from portraying the horrors of the movie industry and then complain when they do.
The real fault is that by raising these issues, but not truly using them to develop a character, we are left with a series of traumatic events but no real connection to the woman suffering because of them.
Blonde therefore feels like a compilation of scene after scene in which Monroe is beaten, abused, leered at, sneered at, and taken advantage of – but with little to no hint as to why she keeps letting it happen.
Her ‘daddy’ issues go some way to explaining it (even if the way they are presented turns comedic at times), but when you have the ability to get creative with the fictional card in a film like this, the scope to truly delve into the star’s mind was huge. Instead, she is trodden on and overwhelmed time and time again until committing (probable) suicide.
Why does she go into modelling and acting? We skip that. Why does she go into a polyamorous relationship with two men, including Charlie Chapman’s son? It’s hard to tell. Why does she reluctantly accept Joe DiMaggio’s proposal? We don’t really know. What causes her to fall in love with playwright Arthur Miller? It’s not quite revealed.
This style of filmmaking ultimately harms the audience’s ability to connect with the movie – they can’t relate to a character who things just happen to. There has to be some reason we’re being told this story again, but instead it’s just a fly-through of the worst moments in Monroe’s life.
The best films and television shows execute a cause-and-effect narrative to drive their plot, but with Blonde it’s all effect and no cause. Something bad happens to our protagonist, and then again, and again, and again. There’s no growth or noticeable decline – she is flawed from the beginning and remains that way until her tragic end.
It’s not all bad. In fact, some aspects of Blonde are very good – the cinematography is visually stunning and a joy to watch. It would do very well as a silent film – the Cinesthetic Twitter page will have its work cut out choosing four stand-out frames.
Star de Armas’ stock will be higher than ever – her performance is outstanding. It’s impossible to take your eyes off her – she captures the manic, tortured side of Monroe almost perfectly. It’s just a shame she was let down by her script.
But those strengths are blighted by some major issues. The fetus scenes are painfully odd, and when one actually starts to speak to Monroe, you’re taken out of the film entirely. It’s out of place, and was a poor creative decision.
The pacing is poor – there are points where it does feel as though we’re starting to get somewhere with Monroe’s character, but we are then quickly jetted off another few months or years into the future, very much leaving potential in the past.
Despite that, Blonde is an intriguing watch – and it is delightful to see a film crew put so much care and devotion into the product in an age of hastily compiled blockbuster movies. It’s just a shame the outcome was a little imperfect.
At least it wasn’t, as Monroe would have put it, absolutely boring.