Mischievous or admirable? Netflix’s first (and presumably last) NC-17 film, “Blonde”, received appalling reviews (both critical and public) and was relentlessly criticized for its excessive sexual imagery and blatant disrespect and repugnant to the deceased. Others, however, are quick to defend the film for its technical savvy and Ana De Armas’ unwavering performance. To say this film is polarizing is an understatement.
Directed by Andrew Dominik (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) and adapted from the bestselling novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, “Blonde” tells the reimagined fictional story of Norma Jeane (played by De Armas ); the real woman behind Hollywood icon, Marilyn Monroe.
Dominik’s sheer ambition is indisputable. I applaud the subversion of clichés and expectations. The way the film attempts to deconstruct and recontextualize Marilyn Monroe’s larger than life divine legacy. It’s a concept that I find too alluring and that’s mainly what drew me to the film from the start (that and my deep reverence for Andrew Dominik). However, despite the compelling concept, the execution (for lack of better words) is completely tone deaf.
The overabundance of explicit nudity, abuse, and drug use inadvertently numbs the viewer, and rather than feeling sympathy for our tragic heroine, you grow weary and bored by the repetitive and overtly gratuitous material that lacks of any substance or artistic value. You can only watch De Armas walk around naked so many times until you start laughing at the absurdity of it all. Sometimes less is more, especially when trying to capture the raw, fleeting innocence of this deeply discouraged character.
While I admire De Armas’ fearless dedication to the role; the script offers him very little substance to work with. Ultimately, the performance looks incredibly flawed and lackluster. I find it hard to blame any actor’s inability to subvert this dialogue, however, it’s rather unfortunate.
Structurally, the film is more like a feverish nightmare with many comparisons to the work of David Lynch (especially regarding “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me”). However, while Lynch often explores whimsical dreamscapes and surrealism, his films have an emotional resonance that grounds the viewer; something “Blonde” sorely lacking. The film is a grueling, grueling testament to your patience as you succumb to nearly three hours of narcissistic, self-indulgent, and insubstantial randomness.
The film tries to make a bold statement about the misogynistic and exploitative nature of Hollywood, but then becomes exactly what it sets out to critique. Unknowingly, unapologetically, it becomes a baffling display of comedic incompetence. I didn’t feel anything as the credits rolled, nor could I articulate a coherent rationale for the film’s existence other than an artistic exercise for the filmmakers.
Technically, the movie is just as infuriating as it is fundamentally jaded. While particular sequences and shots are surprisingly poetic, others look flat and amateurish (the ugly CGI effects don’t help). There is one particular sequence in which the intentions are clear that the viewer is meant to feel violated and shocked; the same as our protagonist. However, the over-the-top comedic performances accompanied by the overly stylized shot composition and facetious dialogue create an unintentionally hilarious juxtaposition that falls completely flat. It’s indescribable.
“Blonde” is an immeasurable disappointment for me, personally. I wanted nothing more than to love and buy into the movie, but I just can’t, in good conscience. While I don’t condone the film’s politics, I don’t consider this a reasonable and valid review. However, the sheer silliness of the film’s execution in style, tone, and substance is undeniable. Sometimes stunning imagery or compelling idea aside, “Blonde” is as dull and superficial as the popular social stereotype it leads you to believe. 4 exhausting sighs out of 10.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Torch.