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blonde, biographical film, biography, review, biopic

Blonde (2001) 

There have been a few films ‘inspired’ by the life of Marilyn Monroe: Paddy Chayefsky’s The Goddess; Alvah Bessie’s The Sex Symbol; and even Arthur Miller’s After the Fall. And there are those biopics with disputed sources, such as Marilyn and Me, Norma Jean & Marilyn and My Week with Marilyn. Blonde tries to have a bet each way, identifying the main character as Monroe but prefacing the film with the disclaimer that it is a work of fiction. Maybe that’s why the finished product is such a mess. 

Nevertheless, Blonde touches all the familiar touchstones. Her mentally ill mother, a longing to know her father, the nude calendar photo, her ménage à trois with the sons of Charlie Chaplin and Edward G. Robinson. Wait! What? Well, supposedly that’s where the fiction interpolates, yet according to some sources Monroe and Charlie Chaplin Jr were lovers at one time. To muddy the waters even further, Monroe’s husbands are given fictitious names. Her first husband Jim Dougherty becomes Bucky Glazer, while Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller are simply credited as The Baseball Player and The Playwright. Topping it off are easily identified, and none too flattering, caricatures of Johnny Hyde and Darryl F. Zanuck and fleeting depictions of Clark Gable, Jane Russell and Laurence Olivier.

As such, the central conceit of Blonde becomes more of a jarring distraction than a device by which the Monroe myth can be explored. First person interviews with both real and fictional characters offer many platitudes but very little insight. Also peppered throughout the biopic are repeated lines of dialogue, endless shots of Monroe gazing into mirrors and countless lewd encounters with foster parents, teachers and studio brass. Regardless of whether these events are factual or invented out of whole cloth, one thing is certain. I haven’t been this infuriated by a Monroe biopic since watching Goodbye, Norma Jean.

One last note. Australia has often stood in for Hollywood for biopics found on this website, including The Three Stooges, Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story and The Mystery of Natalie Wood. Never has the location looked less convincing as it does here in Blonde.

Matthew O'Sullivan, Lee Strasberg, Andrew Clarke, Laurence Olivier, Bruce Hughes
Clark Gable, Renee Henderson, Jane Russell, Poppy Montgomery, Marilyn Monroe

As a self-proclaimed work of fiction, any comparison between ‘reel and real’ is inapplicable. 

Griffin Dunne, Arthur Miller, Kim Gelvin, Paula Strasburg, Jensen Ackles
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