Dumb Blonde: New Monroe drama disappoints

By Ben Thomson, Staff Writer

Blonde, directed by Andrew Dominik, is very quickly shaping up to be this year’s most controversial film. The flashy, NC-17 rated retelling of Marylin Monroe’s life has been accused of being evil, immoral, sadistic and above all disrespectful to the actress’s legacy. I can say right now that the film is none of those things. In fact, accusing it of being any of that is giving the director too much credit.

I’ll start by being nice. From a technical level, the film is nothing short of an achievement. To tell the story of Monroe’s life, Dominik took a surrealist approach to the film’s structure. He distorts audio, blurs out faces and forces the viewer to ask what is real and what is simply a delusion. 

I’ll admit, he succeeds with those little gimmicks (sometimes). It looks amazing, and there are shots that are still burned into my brain. 

Likewise, I don’t think I’ll ever forget Ana de Armes’ tour de force performance as Norma Jeane, the real-life woman behind the popular personality of Monroe. She really sells this terrible script and, at points, rises above it. I think that’s ultimately where Dominik succeeds with this film: empowering very talented people.

Just because it’s pretty doesn’t mean it’s a well done, sophisticated film. The biggest problem with Blonde is how little the director actually cares about Monroe beyond her trauma. It’s a dissection by way of a dull knife. Jeane’s only purpose is to call her husbands “daddy” and audibly remind the audience that the Monroe you see on screen isn’t her. 

She is a character stripped of agency as the film throws one abusive boyfriend after another her way. All of her desires can be boiled down to the quote “a father, a husband and a child.” At one point, she talks to her unborn child, a CGI fetus, in a sequence that’s unsubtle at best and pro-life garbage at worst.

It’s painfully apparent how “edgy” and “controversial” the film fancies itself. At times, it feels like a three-hour-long game of “How much pain can we put this poor woman through?” 

The best way to sum this up is how they choose to depict former president John F. Kennedy. One would think that a biopic of Monroe would recreate the famous “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” moment between JFK and Monroe. It doesn’t. 

Instead, JFK’s is shown sexually assaulting Monroe while a NASA rocket ship blasts off on a TV in the background. I don’t blame anybody for finding this offensive, but again, I feel like that’s giving it too much credit.

There were two films that came to mind while watching this one that exemplify Blonde’s aspirations and failures: David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and Lars von Trier’s The House that Jack Built. The former, in many ways, is what Blonde was trying to be, an exploration of image and internal trauma. 

What separates the two is how empathetic director Lynch is to the the main character of the film, Laura Palmer. Palmer suffers and experiences serious trauma, but Lynch also explores her wants and desires, unlike how Dominik treats Monroe. Trier’s film is what Blonde ends up being: an overlong, uninteresting edgelord flick with some great visuals and great performances. And even then, at least Jack Built had a little self-awareness.