Marilyn Monroe’s biopic looks like an exercise in exploitation: NPR

Ana de Armas plays Marilyn Monroe in the Netflix movie Blond.


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Marilyn Monroe's biopic looks like an exercise in exploitation: NPR

Ana de Armas plays Marilyn Monroe in the Netflix movie Blond.


In her New York Times pan of Norman Mailer’s 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe, critic Pauline Kael wrote, “I wish they’d let her die.” I had pretty much the same thought after watching Blondwhich focuses so tightly on Monroe’s pain and trauma that it feels less like a biographical drama and more like a passionate play.

The film transforms Monroe into an avatar of suffering, beaten down by a miserable childhood, a father she never knew and an industry full of men who abused and exploited her until her death in 1962, in the age of 36. There’s some truth to this story, of course, but it’s not the only truth that can be gleaned from Monroe’s difficult life and extraordinary career. It’s also an awfully tedious note to keep banging for almost three hours.

However, I left Blond with great admiration for Ana de Armas and her commitment to the role of Norma Jeane Baker, the woman who would become known worldwide as Marilyn Monroe. I felt even more admiration for Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, which freely reshapes and reimagines the details of Monroe’s life, but offers a much more nuanced and expansive view of its subject than the writer-director manages. Andrew Dominick.

The film feels quirky from the start as it takes us through Norma Jeane’s difficult upbringing in 1930s Los Angeles. We meet his unstable mother, Gladys – a fierce Julianne Nicholson – who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was institutionalized while Norma Jeane was still a child. Blond skips many details, including Norma Jeane’s time in foster care and her first marriage, and fast forwards to her experience as a pin-up model, which leads to her debut in film.

De Armas’ transformation into Monroe goes far beyond a breathy whisper and a peroxide dye job; it showcases Norma Jeane’s kindness and her naive, unassuming nature. This leaves her ill-prepared for an industry that degrades her from the start, starting with a Hollywood mogul who rapes her in her office when they first meet.

Everyone she works with is condescending to her, though she’s far more hard-working and intellectually curious about her material than anyone gives her credit for. She also maintains a bond with her mother, visiting her in the hospital and asking her the identity of her father, who she was led to believe was a famous Hollywood actor himself.

According BlondNorma Jeane’s ongoing father issues are to blame for her string of bad romances, beginning with a bizarre and entirely fictionalized threesome with two hunky Hollywood offspring, Charlie Chaplin Jr. and Edward G. Robinson Jr. And then there has her famously unhappy marriages to Joe DiMaggio, played by Bobby Cannavale, and Arthur Miller, played by Adrien Brody.

Along the way, she has multiple pregnancies and there are graphic depictions of Norma Jeane having an abortion and, later, a miscarriage. Blond suggests that Monroe desperately wanted a child, to become the loving, supportive mother she herself never had. But it portrays this desire in a frankly ridiculous way: the film constantly returns to close-ups of a fetus in Norma Jeane’s womb, twinkling like the Star Child of 2001.

Dominik has always been a shrewd filmmaker, and Blond is packed with brilliant images, shot in a mix of color and black and white, that sometimes beautifully evoke Monroe’s vintage photographs. And it has brooding music from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who also composed the director’s big Western in 2007, The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford.

Like this movie Blond looks like a death march in slow motion: it’s The Assassination of Marilyn Monroe by Virtually Everyone She Met. There are fleeting moments of joy and levity along the way, especially when de Armas re-enacts clips from Monroe’s famous performances in Men prefer blondes and Some like it hot. But even when Dominik recreates those classic Hollywood moments, he’s quick to nullify our fun: Even the famous metro-grid sequence from The Seven Year Itch must be stretched into a crushing lament over the endless brutality of this woman.

Blond clearly wants us to feel for Norma Jeane, but it dwells on her pain so obsessively — never more so than when she’s shown being sexually assaulted by President Kennedy — that the film’s empathy feels like any other. form of exploitation. Marilyn Monroe was perhaps a brilliant Hollywood construct, one that Norma Jeane herself helped create. But Blond is too repetitive – and ultimately, unimaginative – to come close to understanding the woman behind this construct. It left me feeling like Monroe deserved better, not just from the industry that chewed it up and spat it out, but from any filmmaker hoping to make sense of its legacy.


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