Blonde ★★★★½

This one's tricky.

I could speak at length about how much I love the technical stylings of the film, from the various color gradings and aspect ratios and filters to the way that audio is used throughout the movie to put the viewer in Marilyn’s perspective, but that’s best experienced for one’s own self. I'll just say that I really wish I'd seen this in a theater. It has a surreal, dream-like quality that would have been mesmerizing on the big screen.

That’s not what I want to focus on here.

On one hand, there is absolutely plenty of merit to those who call this an affront to Baker/Monroe's legacy. There are parts of this movie that are undeniably grotesque. It's a bleak and disturbing misery parade, especially in its third act. There's none of the strong, witty Marilyn that so many know and love here.

On the other, it's impossible to say that this isn't a genuine labor of love for everyone involved. It means a lot to them, particularly Andrew Dominik and Ana de Armas. Whether that matters is a different matter entirely, but this is coming from a genuine place.
I agree with the argument that a lot of movies attempt to portray something and condemn it, only to inadvertently become awful examples of it themselves, and there's some of that in here. But there's also an argument to be made for depicting unpleasant things onscreen.

There are a couple of steps that got us here to consider when responding to this movie, most significantly the source material. The novel by Joyce Carol Oates is explicitly and deliberately a work of fiction; rather than aiming for strict (or even loose) accuracy, she used the general framework of Baker's life as a mold to pour the suffering of women into. Non-consensual abortion, sexual assault, the exploitation of the entertainment industry; it's all deliberately combined to make for a distinctly unpleasant experience.
So what does Oates think of the adaptation? From August 2020: “I have seen the rough cut of Andrew Dominick’s adaptation & it is startling, brilliant, very disturbing & [perhaps most surprisingly] an utterly “feminist” interpretation… not sure that any male director has ever achieved anything like this.”

Dominik apparently did a whole lot of research into Marilyn and left most of it aside, using the novel as his "bible." He would regularly have the original shots that he was recreating side-by-side with the live recordings as he was shooting. However, he clearly felt a deep empathy for Marilyn and her struggles as a woman.
My gut instinct says that he was tired of seeing a woman who clearly had a rough go of it (until it killed her) consistently portrayed as the fun, nostalgic persona that Hollywood had created for her; in a sense, the very persona and industry that had killed her, continuing to perpetuate and profit off of the mythology long after her death. While he knew that Blonde was a work of fiction, it used her well-known but still less-discussed struggles to amplify the ugliness of what women struggle with.

And then there's Ana de Armas, who's occasionally unconvincing in her makeup and blue contacts, but more often than not disappears into the character, transforming so completely into the role that, in some shots, it's truly eerie how much she looks like the genuine article. She's stated that she put a lot of her own struggles and demons into this role, and it shows.

So you have a woman whose history has been somewhat whitewashed into a passing acknowledgement of her struggles and the romanticization of her public victories, a woman who sought to push against that with a massive novel meant to embody women's struggles at large, a man who read the novel and spent over a decade fighting to make this movie, and the woman who connected deeply with this portrayal and put her all into bringing it to life because it mattered so deeply to her.

Say what you will about the proverbial desecration of a corpse: there is a lot about this movie that's undeniably real.

Now that doesn't matter to some people, but it matters a lot to me. I felt it while watching this movie.

The accusations of portraying Norma Jean as nothing more than "damaged goods" (as I saw one reviewer say) feels particularly disgusting in light of this background, but after watching the movie, I have to say that it feels like that reviewer has never dealt with someone who has damage like this. There was a lot of sympathy in this portrayal.

I want to address the subplot with the father for a moment before wrapping up, and how it affected me.

My mother left when I was 2.
I was given the opportunity to start the journey to reconnect with her when I was 23.
I finally met her when I was 28.
During our second meeting, when I was 29, I finally confronted her with the harder conversation. I just wanted to know one thing: that she regretted leaving me. I wanted her to admit that what she had done was wrong, or at least a mistake.
Instead, the best I got was a rationalization that she should have known better than to have me at the time, and that "my mistake wasn't leaving you, it was having you."
So now that's something I carry forever, and she doesn't get to know me.

Some may dismiss the consistent obsession with her father as reductive or disgusting, but for some people, this kind of abandonment is something that shapes a large portion of their entire life. It’s certainly shaped the form of a lot of my loneliness and desperation over the years, and many of the bad decisions I’ve made with relationships can be properly traced back to that root emptiness. There were other factors, sure, but the lack of maternal love in my life has been an undeniable source of everlasting pain and longing.

So while it’s not perfect, I don’t have a problem with this portrayal of this particular struggle. It struck me deeply more than a few times.

But where do we go with the rest of it?

It’s undeniably long, nearly three hours in length. It’s bloated and self-indulgent. It’s occasionally grotesque in its parade of tragedies. Nobody likes the CG fetus, even if Dominik thinks it was essential to making the situations feel real.

But it’s also the kind of movie that will make a lot of people feel seen in a way that they don’t normally get to be seen, so really, this movie is for them.

I’m okay with that.

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