Blonde (2022) Netflix Movie Review – Ana de Armas shines in this polarizing arthouse film
Ana de Armas shines in this polarizing arthouse film
It is extremely difficult to find a Netflix original more than two hours long these days. The magic number seems to be around 100 minutes. That is what most filmmakers aspire to hit vis-a-vis the runtime. But for someone like Andrew Dominick making a film every four years, time is no bar.
‘Blonde’, on Netflix, is almost 3 hours long and yet somehow, you feel there is still so much left to see. Although the promos and marketing point toward a Marilyn Monroe biopic, ‘Blonde’ is anything but. It plays out like a nightmare with feverish modern sensibilities focused around the feminist movement and critique of predatory studio heads of the times. But it is also a revealing, honest, and critical portrayal of and look into Monroe’s personal life off camera. The only shortfall is the chaotic execution that might be a bit too artsy for some.
Another thing that doesn’t sit well is the fleeting hypocrisy of reducing Monroe to her flaws, something the film was itself made to ostensibly criticize others. In ‘Blonde’, we see the distillation of a global superstar – a sex symbol and the dream of every man on earth – from the troubled personality of a simpleton with a terrible childhood. The latter, when settled at the bottom, is magnified and brought into focus by Dominick. The darker parts of Monroe’s life were never hidden, courtesy of the obsessive unrequited love affair between her and the press.
In those times, everyone wanted to get a piece of her for different reasons. So much so, that it can even be said we never saw a happy Monroe embrace the camera. There was always a hint of melancholy in her disposition; a permanently attached sadness that never wore off. We definitely see some of that replicated in the film. A gamut of transitions and fleeting shots attentively bring them out in Armas’ face. And in those moments, we catch glimpses of who Monroe really was.
Blonde’s structure, substance, and style are all kinetic ingredients for a polarizing response. The film’s reality is that it does not ask you to linger on the fence for long. After the initial minutes, the moment Armas becomes Monroe, as a viewer, you are confronted with a difficult yet decisive choice to continue or not.
An interesting way to disassociate Norma and Marilyn was referring to her by the former. Like in the book, Dominick distinguished the source of his inspiration from the person and the perception of the person. However, in doing so he veers off his vision some way in the middle, when ‘Blonde’ squarely descends into chaos and more of a passion project than a fully fleshed-out portrait.
His crafty narrative and camerawork are certainly neat. There is no doubt that the imposition of his style aggrandizes the aesthetic appeal of ‘Blonde’. Continuously changing aspect ratios and color themes effectively sort the different phases of Monroe’s life sketch. It extracts and contracts like a beating heart. Albeit, the appeal does not come as a surprise. Given Dominick’s searing previous works like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Killing Them Softly, this was something we all were looking forward to. On both those occasions, the director has been guilty of over-scrutinizing the literary subject matter and falling for his wonderous eye for details.
Although he would want his talents to give the works a more refined look – and they do – it makes watching them a bit more tedious. That is where ‘Blonde’ probably bites the dust. While artistically, ‘Blonde’ has all the elements of a winner, when you actually sit down to watch it, the decision to continue is made within minutes. The probability of a “miss” sits strong but I guess that is a risk that the makers have intentionally taken.
One very interesting quote that describes Monroe and Dominick’s interpretation of her in the film is from the great Sir Laurence Olivier. He deemed her “the complete victim of ballyhoo and sensation”, and “one of the most unappreciated people in the world”.
Somehow, an exact manifestation of this unique and strange quality was missing in ‘Blonde’. Dominick’s style felt experimentational but his command and grasp over his narrative, at least for the first half, are exhibited in the fine strokes of genius, visually. There is indeed a lyrical quality to ‘Blonde’ that is very likable. Make no mistake: it is an art-house film made on the budget of a mainstream commercial blockbuster. But in the critical terms of movie reviewing, ‘Blonde’ comes across as more frustrating than awe-inspiring. You will know if it is for you or not when you watch it. That is the best advice anyone could give you going into it.