Andrew Dominick captured the lore of American celebrity with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford but found something far more sinister in his faithful adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s Blonde — the dangerous effects of Hollywood’s sexualization of women.
This review of the Netflix film Blonde (2022) does not contain spoilers.
I’m not sure what people expected walking into Andrew Dominick‘s film Blonde. A sexy romp? A factual biography? A melodramatic dramatization? These thoughts ran through my mind when I heard a handful of people laughing during my screening of Blonde when there was nothing funny about it. Which, frankly, may be the point of Dominick’s adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s fictionalized account of Marilyn Monroe’s life, the kind of disconnect we fail to see when it comes to Hollywood legends. The type of fandom would delude fans into thinking it was acceptable to poke Jerome Horwitz in the eyes because it was funny on the Three Stooges. Blonde is about Hollywood celebrity and the sexualization of women. Perhaps, most importantly, it should be viewed through the lens of abuse. This is what makes Blonde such a polarizing experience.
Aaron Sorkin said it best, and I have referenced it half a dozen times in the past couple of years. He wrote, “The things we do to women.” Take Norma Jean — Marilyn Monroe’s birthname — who, as a small child, suffers abuse at the hands of her mother, Gladys (Julianne Nicholson). She eventually has a psychotic break. Ending up in an orphanage, Monroe became a pinup girl and actress, searching for her father, who her mother hinted worked at a big Hollywood studio. As an adult, Monroe (Ana de Armas, remarkable here) was taken advantage of by her agent (Dan Butler). Of course, it didn’t stop there. She suffers a sexual assault by a powerful movie executive (David Warshofsky).
However, the damage doesn’t stop there. Norma Jean’s dating and relationship history had devastating effects on her mental health, which led to her substance abuse. You have the Chaplin brothers, where Monroe has her sexual rebirth. She marries a famous baseball player (played by Bobby Cannavale), who cannot handle her sex symbol status. Monroe’s relationship with a renowned playwright (Adrien Brody) draws a picture of her past physical and emotional abuse leads to feelings of inadequacy. Even the rumor of Monroe’s affair with a famous politician (Caspar Phillipson) is an eye-opening depiction, one of women being used as commodities by powerful men for pleasure.
Dominick has always been very faithful to the source material. For example, before Blonde, the quintessential film on American celebrity was his masterpiece, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Blonde is different. This film captures the source material’s objectification of stars, particularly women. The script honors Oates’s fictionalized vision of what events could have led to her death. There is so much to ponder here. The imagery can be overwhelming. For instance, in two scenes where Monroe indicates she has no control of her body. Anyone with experience with this abuse, or trained mental health advocates, can see the powerful message of how abandonment and abuse can lead to anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Blonde has an all-star cast filled with Dominick players from his previous films. However, the movie is carried on the back of Ana de Armas’s career-best performance. She is spectacular here. Armas’s performance is an intentional caricature of Hollywood lore. She develops a haunting piquancy in a handful of scenes, drawing upon Norma Jean’s past to advance in her career. And ignore the negative comments about the actor’s accent. There is simply no foundation for this argument.
Andrew Dominick captured the lore of American celebrity with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Here, he found something far more sinister in his faithful adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s Blonde — the dangerous effects of Hollywood’s sexualization of women for our entertainment. Frankly, what he and Armas do for Blonde is the equivalent of what great crime directors achieve — forcing you to watch horrifying images and situations without being able to turn away from them, all shot in a candy-coated shell that goes down smoother than it should. Therefore, I refer you to my note about the few who were more than amused with Marilyn Monroe’s tragic life above.
They proved Blonde’s point entirely.
What did you think of the Netflix film Blonde (2022)? Comment below.
You can watch Blonde with a subscription to Netflix.