Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Andrew Dominik
Screenwriter: Andrew Dominik adapting Joyce Carol Oates’s novel
Cast: Ana de Armas, Lily Fisher, Julianne Nicholson, Colleen Foy, Tygh Runyan, Michael Drayer, Sara Paxton
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/29/22
Opens: September 16, 2022
You cannot dismiss history. If both your parents are depressed or schizophrenic, you’ve got a tough struggle ahead of you to stay normal. Such was the case with Norma Jeane aka Marilyn Monroe, whose mother Gladys (Julianne Nicholson) once tried to drown her daughter in the bathtub and wound up in a hospital for those with serious mental problems. We don’t know about her father (Tygh Runyan), who may or may not have been emotionally unstable, but we do know that his absence throughout Norma’s life, when coupled with her abusive mother’s negative upbringing, could have predicted her fate. Norma was a young woman who spent her brief life hallucinating about him and begging her mother to take her to see him. Kiwi-born writer-director Andrew Dominik, whose “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is, like his “Blonde,” a fictionalized account, adapts Joyce Carol Oates’ novel. This time his approach is fragmented, picking and choosing the events that he finds best (while eliminating Ms. Monroe’s famous song to JFK “Happy Birthday Mr. President.”)
Played by the adorable Lily Fisher as Norma in her childhood, seemingly spending every other day begging her mom to take her to her dad, “Blonde” pictures Norman Jeane as a mighty unhappy, rich celebrity who is demeaned, insulted, vocally and physically abused by men who are pictured throughout as a bunch of howling freaks. She is also shown on her belly allowing a prospective director to take her from behind, screwing up her face to show her displeasure while accommodating the fashion: if you want to be cast, you’ve got to suck up to the director.
As the title character Ana de Armas gives the picture a solid performance but looks too ethnic to capture the lily-white looks of her namesake. She is courageous enough to do her work throughout an abysmally long 166 minutes, which even at that looks at only a highly selective stack of events in the life of a woman who died of a barbiturate overdose at 36. Conspiracy theorists will dismiss the official cause of death saying that she may have been injected between the toes a day before she was to press conference possibly about the president. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) comes off (literally) as an evil horndog, lying in bed while enjoying a job Monica-Lewinsky style.
You may think it’s absurd to see that Norma had an affair with two movie stars Charles Chaplin Jr. (Xavier Samuel) and Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams), though Joyce Carol Oates’ novel throws that event into her highly fictionalized account. Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) marries and beats her, opposing her nude and near-nude photos while Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody), one of the great American playwrights, is believable as an intellectual who could not resist Norma’s less-than-analytical mind.
“Blonde” is a downer, which is not a criticism, but it trashes every principal character in the overlong work. This is a slog to get through. The movie is rated NC-17 for nudity and faux intercourse.
166 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C+
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – C+