Blonde ★★★

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t know much about Marilyn Monroe. I know general broad stroke facts, but I haven’t seen that many of her films, I haven’t read the fictionalized novel this is based on, and I don’t think it’s fair of me to speak with authority on the exploitation discourse. I do think that any conversation about exploitation needs to include not only what’s depicted on screen, but also to what extent fact and fiction is blurred in pursuit of a particular depiction — and I frankly did not watch this film with any of that as a frame of reference. I’ll leave that to the more knowledgeable people, particularly women, and particularly those who have actually seen the film.

Given that, my main takeaway is a begrudging admiration of the sensory experience and a profound frustration with the lack of depth in the story. It’s an intensely nasty, yet visually arresting gargantuan effort, every beautiful moment followed up by several laughable lunges at profundity. It’s just visually unpredictable enough on screen to make you anticipate something different, only for it to disappoint you each time it hammers home the same beats and themes. I can’t tell if it’s more laudable or sad that this much thought was clearly put into every single filmmaking choice and all it results in is the most rudimentary, repetitive commentary on celebrity, parenting, and the men in Monroe’s life. Ana de Armas certainly gives it her all, and her performance is impressive considering how weak her character often is.

And yet, as someone who’s normally on Dominik’s wavelength, I find myself drawn in by his filmmaking again even though 1) I wish he wouldn’t have directed this and would stop talking, and 2) the genuine, intimate connection he has with someone like Nick Cave is far from present here (Cave and Ellis do a good job scoring, like always). Even if some of the choices fall flat on their faces, he’s at least going for it in a way that convinces me he thinks he knows exactly what he’s doing. Maybe a low bar, but in this often tiresome biopic genre, sometimes that’s all you need to stand out. The film may be a complete chore to sit through at times, but I’ll at least remember the ways in which it’s a chore.


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