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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Blonde' Review: Ana De Armas Portrays Marilyn Monroe Unpredictably In Daring Psychological Drama

Ana de Armas striking a pose in a white dress

Amidst every filmmaker under the sun coming out of the woodwork to present some kind of a biopic, many currently referencing the ''power of cinema'' especially, it's always fairly refreshing once in a while to get one that is willing to take a few left turns. Director-writer Andrew Dominik's Blonde adapts a fiction novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates in that vein, recounting very loosely moments from life of Marilyn Monroe, played here by Ana de Armas. Those moments can be experienced as memories, some faded and some ambiguous, or as one's idea of who this person might've been while only looking at her in retrospect. The film depicts a mix of fictional and real events all the way from her childhood to getting started as a model, and from her superstar actor years to later marriages.

In regards to those aforementioned left turns, Blonde's title already suggests that this is more about the idea of her and the very beginning supports that, playing like psychological horror when Norma Jeane—as she's mostly known in this film—endures abuse and uncertainty while living with her mother Gladys (Julianne Nicholson) as a child (young Norma Jeane played commendably by Lily Fisher). The film as a whole returns only sporadically to that style, which is a shame because they're often the parts where Dominik manages to get his ideas across properly, but interestingly de Armas plays her role like that from start to end. The actor's performance is remarkable because of that consistency, her portrayal ranging from uncanny (hard to always know if it's her or real footage) to completely free in small glimpses when Norma Jeane is able to let loose, which isn't often.

When you have that type of central performance in your toolbox, it's also great that every frame seems fully thought-out as Dominik's blocking is always meticulous. That's why it's such a bummer that it's frustratingly difficult to understand cinematographer Chayse Irvin's camera placement, movement and the endless shifting of colour palettes and aspect ratios; after the stunning opening, you just keep wondering what each shot is actually trying to accomplish or how you should feel about them. That then takes you out of the story again and again, which is already a challenge in itself because Dominik's writing doesn't have a constant through line for you to follow or even sense. There's enough care in what is actually shown on the screen but this stop-and-start motion often loses the human, Norma Jeane, in the process.

It's okay to be pretentious when you're not pretending to be any different kind of movie but it's not really successful when you also try to transform real emotionality into something that's manufactured. Hollywood already did that.

Smileys: Ana de Armas, directing

Frowneys: Cinematography, structure, screenplay

Can we put the word ''daddy'' in timeout? Thanks.


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