Over twenty years ago, Poppy Montgomery starred in the first adaptation of 'Blonde', Joyce Carol Oates’ fictional biopic of Marilyn Monroe. I hated it. So I approached this latest version with some trepidation, fully intending to call bullshit on director Andrew Dominick’s assertion that he was not interested in reality and would instead provide an "avalanche of images and events." Yet that is precisely what he achieves, meticulously linking moments from Monroe’s life to sequences from her films in a hypnotic montage of riffs and motifs. While I still have my reservations about the source material, this masterful film nonetheless presents a compelling portrait of the troubled star.
After a brief depiction of a childhood marked by love and abuse at the hands of her mentally ill mother, Norma Jeane is delivered to an orphanage while Monroe sings 'Every Baby Needs a Da Da Daddy'. This song from one of her earlier films continues to play as the biopic cuts to Monroe in the Actors’ Studio, then to the casting couch of a powerful producer, followed by a scene from All About Eve where her character is ordered to make a producer "happy". The sequence ends with a return to the Actors’ Studio, where a distraught Monroe is recovering from being encouraged to remember it all. This ongoing juxtaposition between fantasy and reality is heightened by shifts in the film’s aspect ratio and colour scheme. Less obvious but equally effective is the fluctuation of sound, in which Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ haunting soundtrack contrasts with moments of absolute silence.
Ana de Armas is heartbreakingly good as Marilyn, wonderfully embodying both the myth and the woman behind it. The performance she provides while testing for Don’t Bother to Knock is as praiseworthy as Naomi Watts’ similar scene in Mulholland Drive. In a none-too subtle swipe at the misogynistic Hollywood Monroe operated in, the producers of the film fail to see the talent in front of their eyes but give her the role because she has a great ass. Elsewhere, the recreations of Monroe’s performances and publicity stills are so exact that the sudden nightmarish departure from them is rendered even more jarring.
On occasion Dominick may overstep the mark for some people’s tastes. But, as Joe E. Brown concludes at the end of Some Like it Hot, “Nobody’s perfect”.
as Marilyn Monroe
as Arthur Miller
as Charlie Chaplin Jr.
as Edward G. Robinson Jr.
As a self-proclaimed work of fiction, any comparison between ‘reel and real’ is inapplicable.