Blonde ★★½

Dumb Blonde

Ironic, I suppose, how an NC-17 version of Marilyn Monroe continues to infantilize her. In the case of "Blonde," it's childhood trauma psychologizing, getting into Freudian unconscious, surreal imagery territory. Monroe's last and unfinished production, "Something's Got to Give" (1962), made fun of that sort of psychobabble. There's even the talking CGI fetus to analyze her eventual self-abortion. And, she calls her lovers "daddy." Depictions of a drug haze are likely more apt. The split personality business between Norma Jeane/Marilyn and serious actress/sexpot personality is more promising, but takes a backseat to the former. That Marilyn's films-within-the-film tend to reflect Norma Jeane's life outside them undermines that, too, suggesting a single if confused and childish identity.

Although hardly "one of the ten best movies ever made," as writer-director Andrew Dominik hoped his adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates fictionalization of the star would be, I think he was on the right track visually in respect to reenacting the plethora of images we have of the real Monroe, albeit if it leads to the constant shifts between aspect ratios and from black-and-white to color, and Ana de Armas makes the role her own in a way Michelle Williams's attempted facsimile in "My Week with Marilyn" (2011) never could. As for the rest, it's ponderous, artsy, and simply an overlong transmutation of an overlong book. I remember liking Dominik's larger-than-life account of "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (2007), although I could surely use a refresher to see if that holds true now, but my point is the studio interfered with that one, and it may not necessarily be a bad thing not to indulge too much a filmmaker's excesses, even if not to fully endorse the ole Hollywood studio system. Clearly, Netflix had a looser leash here.

There's a semblance of a critical eye thrown at Monroe's gawkers only for the movie itself to become just that--a fanatical sense of intimate familiarity with a sex symbol through the images, the publicity, and likewise tawdry if not trite (she looks like she has it all, but she's really sad) biographical accounts and death fetishizing, more rescuing her by continued exploitation. To an extent, they already made this film in Monroe's lifetime with the likes of "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" (1957) and "The Goddess" (1958). This one just has coerced sex scenes with variations of casting-couch producer Darryl Zanuck and President Kennedy, a Joe DiMaggio beating her, and a "Niagara" (1953)-orgasmic ménage à trois with Jr.'s--more daddy issues--Charles Chaplin and Edward G. Robinson (although I'm not sure any of it warrants an NC-17 rating, but what do I care).

Monroe's own films tend to be much better, including examining her own infantilized sexpot image and the dualities of actress, star, and symbol in a fictionalized way. "Don't Bother to Knock" (1952), "Bus Stop" (1956), "The Prince and the Showgirl" (1957), "Let's Make Love" (1960), "The Misfits" (1961), even those titles short changed but at least mentioned in "Blonde," "Some Like It Hot" (1959), "The Seven Year Itch" (1955), and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953). "Blonde" was certainly done no favors for me by having recently revisited those titles in anticipation, the result somehow being an expected disappointment.

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