Blonde Does Not Give the Woman Behind Marilyn Monroe Her Due

Blonde. Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe. Cr. Netflix © 2022

The beginning of Blonde is flashy. It’s Norma Jeane (Ana de Armas) in the famous white dress, surrounded by glitz and glamor. The film quickly cuts back to a less-than-enchanting time in Norma’s life when she was a young girl (Lily Fisher) living with her abusive mother (Julianne Nicholson). It’s these small beginnings that will give way to the superstar known as Marilyn Monroe.

Blonde allows de Armas to showcase another side of her abilities. For the past few years, she’s been in small action roles like The Gray Man and No Time to Die, effortlessly stealing the show with the less-than-twenty-minutes of screentime she’s been allotted. She’s smart, witty, and effervescent in these films, but hasn’t been able to showcase her dramatic chops until now. Even with Blonde, it still feels like de Armas isn’t being given the opportunity to deliver her finest performance. The script is flowery, with de Armas and the rest of the cast forced to deliver on-the-nose lines that would never be uttered in the real world. 

Norma films the famous white dress scene from "The Seven-Year Itch)
Blonde. Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe. Cr. Netflix © 2022

Blonde’s 166-minute runtime is not unique for 2022. This has been a year of extended time spent at the theatre. The Batman ran 176 minutes, Elvis was 159 minutes, and Jurassic World Dominion lasted a grueling 147 minutes. However, Blonde is extraordinarily navel-gazy, with prolonged montages thrown in at the strangest times. From babies being formed in-utero to the infamous subway grate flash from The Seven-Year Itch to waterfalls and explosions acting as metaphorical orgasms, Blonde wants to linger on all the wrong moments.

There’s not an ounce of nuance in Blonde. When Norma is in the backseat of the car being taken to an abortion she’s not sure she wants, the camera lingers on a stop sign along the route. Suddenly, Norma has a change of heart. It’s a sequence that feels like it belongs in a high school student film and speaks to the larger issues at work. Blonde is holding the audience’s hands every step of the way to let them know exactly how to feel. In return, there’s no critical thinking required from the viewer. There’s no damnation of the systems in place that contributed to Norma’s dreadful experience in Hollywood.

A scene from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" on screen at a movie theatre
Blonde. Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe. Cr. Netflix © 2022

What should have been an exploration of the woman behind Marilyn Monroe was sidelined for gratuitous, invasive looks at her body. The audience does not need to actually see so many acts of physical, sexual, and emotional violence to understand their impact on her. Recent films like Never Rarely Sometimes Always and The Assistant manage to convey trauma without forcing the audience to endure the violence. The extent of what the women in those two films experience is never known, but audiences see the effects through the performances. Blonde’s near-obsession with showing varied abuses of Norma serves no purpose other than to exploit the actual traumas of this young woman.

The film seems at least moderately interested in critically examining the media’s hand in Norma’s struggles, evidenced by the incessant preoccupation with every facet of her life, but its concern is surface-level. By flying through Norma’s life at breakneck speed (save for a few choice moments), the film is doing exactly what it is likely that it set out to condemn. Norma comes off as an enigma, a completely incomprehensible force of nature. Even though the film never claims to be a traditional, stick-to-the-facts biopic, the audience leaves Blonde without a better understanding of who Norma Jeane was. We understand that what she lived through was sad because we know that abuse, miscarriages, and loneliness are unhappy life experiences, but Norma feels like a caricature. That’s the exact thing she fought so hard against while she was alive. Blonde is much more interested in the idea of Marilyn than the reality of Norma.

Norma surrounded by a mob of men
Blonde. Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe. Cr. Netflix © 2022

Even those with a cursory knowledge of Norma’s life know that it wasn’t perfect. While she ruled Hollywood, Norma’s personal life was hell. It’s not hard to imagine that a young, impressionable, beautiful woman could be taken advantage of in Hollywood. It’s a problem that persists to this day. Hollywood protects and encourages the behavior of men who abuse their power, and Norma is a victim. Blonde should have been a reclamation of her name. Given that the film is fictional, Blonde had the freedom to give a kindness or sense of agency to a woman who lost her power at every turn. Even if the film didn’t want to fully rewrite history and give her power that she didn’t have, there was a way to tell this story with a more vicious slant toward the people in power who allowed this abuse to continue.

“I’m a slave to this Marilyn Monroe,” Norma says in a way that is a cry for help. It’s painfully obvious to anyone with an ounce of concern, but she has no one looking at her in that way. They see money, stardom, beauty. She can’t possibly be sad when she’s on top of the world, right? Blonde is too salacious for its own good and doesn’t pay respect to the real woman at its core: Norma Jeane.

Written by Tina Kakadelis

News Editor for Film Obsessive. Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Carey Mulligan her Oscar.

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