For all the hype, all of the allure of an NC-17-rated Marilyn Monroe biopic, all of my crush on Ana de Armis, going into the new drama Blonde I forgot the facts that a) I typically don’t love biopics; and b) I typically don’t like movies about Hollywood.
I also don’t like pretentious, three-hour-long filmmaking experiments that lose sight of the most important piece of any project: the audience.
Andrew Dominick, who directed the criminally overlooked The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, writes and helms Blonde, a very long and largely unengaging collection of filmmaking techniques and clever shots and drawn-out sequences of the mental collapse of one Norma Jeane (a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe). Scene by scene, moment by moment, Dominick delivers everything ranging from beautiful to crafty to seductive to disturbing–but together, combined, strung into the opus that it is, they simply don’t amount to anything.
Wasted here is Ana de Armis, delivering a performance of the lifetime; she has the looks, surely, but this is no caricature performance. To Dominick’s credit, he lets his lead actress expose herself fully and then lets her, if not forces her, to dig deeper until her soul is bared open for all to see. It’s a plunge into darkness and terror rarely seen in a drama such as this.
And yet Blonde itself is so caught up in itself and its sense of self-importance that de Armis’ performance never lands the gut punch it so obviously should have. The final 45 minutes of this movie plays like a slow-motion horror film, yet by the time you get to this final act your fingers will likely be twitching over the fast-forward button on your remote.
In fact, if you are to watch Blonde, I encourage you to just skip to this final stretch altogether; it’s not that the movie finally kicks into a new gear, but you can at least see what this semi-aimless production was shooting for–and you can experience de Armis’ raw emotion on full display.
(or maybe start a little earlier, to see the shocking scene that presumably earned Blonde it’s NC-17 rating, even if the movie as a whole is certainly not deserving of such)
Blonde is not without its positives–I’d be remiss to not mention Julianne Nicholson’s small but terrifying performance as Norma Jeane’s wretched mother–but Dominick gets lost in the technical details and artistry… at the expense of the audience experience. And the experience isn’t great, even for a [semi-fictional] biopic set in Hollywood.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.