Review by Dan Skip Allen
Everyone should know who Norma Jean (aka Marilyn Monroe) is by now. She was a pin-up model and Hollywood starlet for years before her untimely demise in 1962. She symbolized everything considered beautiful during her time in the limelight. Women wanted to be like her, and men wanted to be with her. She is what everyone during this era wished they could be perfect, or that is what they thought she was. That was only on the outside. On the inside, she was tormented by pain and riddled with grief. She was a damaged woman, no matter how you looked at her. Blonde, the biopic about her life, doesn't pull any punches.
The film picks up her life as a child with an abusive alcoholic mother, Gladys (Julianne Nicholson). She was put into an orphanage and learned how to fend for herself at a young age. This helped her find work as a pin-up model, which parlayed her into a career in the movies. At this point in the film, Ana De Armas plays Marilyn Monroe. She becomes a big star with the help of Daryl F. Zanuck. This was when all the men started to be interested in her as a potential wife. Some were Joe Dimaggio (Bobby Cannavale) and Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody). She was never truly happy with anyone, though, including herself. She even had a fling with the President at the time John F. Kennedy.
The movie uses a few different styles to tell a story about this woman going through a lot of pain and suffering. Sometimes it's in color, and other times it's in black and white. Usually, her public life as a starlet and celebrity is presented in black and white, and her personal life is shown in color. These two aspects are two distinctly different sides of her personality: the one she chooses to show to the public and the one she hides because she is unhappy with it. She doesn't make good decisions in her personal life, especially regarding men.
Filmmaker Andrew Dominick also wrote the screenplay, so he has a way to depict this woman by showing how vulnerable she is on the inside and how glamorous she is on the outside. In a way, this is like a Jekyll and Hyde situation. The script had to show how the public perceived her and how she perceived herself. This is the crux of this film and this woman in a nutshell. The style was like the outside veneer of a used car with a new paint job. All glossy on the outside while being dirty and beat up on the inside. This story showed the warts and all look at this woman's life; it wasn't pretty like she was.
There were choices made as far as camera angles and various uses of symbolism within the lens of the film that were a bit off-putting. These were meant to show the trauma and difficulty she had as a child or the suffocation she felt as an adult. Water played a considerable part in these moments of the film. She is often shown drowning or trying to end her life. This was because she felt she could do nothing about her life and her lack of control in her relationships and the public eye. This isn't a PG version of her life. I wish we had gotten other biopics that chose this direction to tell their stories. I would much rather see a truer depiction of someone's life than a glossy inaccurate version. If people are turned off by the life a celebrity, musician, or athlete had, it is a better selection of who this person truly is.
Ana De Armas gives an awards-worthy performance as this gorgeous woman hurt by everything in her personal life but adored and revered by the masses in her life as a celebrity. She puts herself through so much as this character. There were many scenes where she cried and was in visual pain for the art. And that is a true dedication as far as I'm concerned. The physical abuse she takes from her various husbands was brutal to watch at times. She gives it all in this role and definitely should be considered in the running for Best Actress this year at the Academy Awards. She has turned into one of the best actresses working today. She can literally do it all, from comedy to action, and as in this film, drama is no problem at all for her.
Blonde isn't your typical biopic. It has some stylistic ways the director Dominick uses to tell the story of this tragic yet beautiful woman. The contrast of the black and white scenes with the color scenes was a masterful decision. It showed the dichotomy of this woman's life: the two distinct sides she's living with. The cinematography and many other craft departments on this film were on point and delivered a great look at this world she lived and worked in. De Armas was the glue for this film. She brought it all together in the end. Without this performance, all the stylistic decisions and camera tricks wouldn't have worked. She is a star; if this film didn't show that, none would. Finally, we have gotten a biopic that deserves to be talked about. Please, Hollywood, we need more like this one with a filmmaker who takes chances and hits them out of the park.
Blonde hits theaters on September 16 and Netflix on September 28.