Another year, another lengthy Netflix Oscar hopeful. Blonde has been in development since 2010 with Naomi Watts and Jessica Chastain attached to star at various points. Can one of Hollywood’s hottest newcomers do justice to its eternal icon?
Brought to the screen by director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James), the film is an adaptation of a fictional book about Marilyn Monroe’s life. Ana De Almas (Knives Out) stars as Norma Jeane Mortenson, a young actor who was scooped up by the Hollywood studio system to become Marilyn Monroe.
The film follows her many trials, and the trauma that led one of the most admired women in the world to sink into darkness. While Dominik faithfully explores the events of her life, there’s no soul in the storytelling. The script is filled with ponderous dialogue that gives little idea of the person behind the icon.
Without any real depth, the ‘mature content’ ends up feeling exploitative; the nudity and explicit sex will make headlines, but the numerous scenes of assault make Blonde uncomfortable to watch. She is essentially reduced to a horror movie victim, with the abuse she suffers played for shock value.
There are interesting performances within the ensemble. Julianne Nicholson is intriguing as Norma Jean’s mother, a woman driven to hysteria by emotional neglect. Adrien Brody and Bobby Cannavale are well-cast as the men in Monroe’s life, but really there’s only one role that matters.
De Almas – an undeniably talented youg actor – makes an astonishing transformation, nailing the breathless tones and enchanting stare. Sadly, without a script to back it up, it’s never more than a finely tuned impression. Blonde may be an awards contender if voters see something in De Almas’ committed performance. But wallowing in Monroe’s misery it overlooks the talent that made her immortal.