Movie Review – Blonde

Blonde (2022)
Written & Directed by Andrew Dominik

I knew this would be one of those movies where social media would have the stupidest takes on either side of loving or hating it. The criticism, of course, lacks as much nuance as the film itself. But that’s how most Americans engage with art; in a completely shallow way. They have been trained so they don’t get pesky ideas or start understanding how complex existence can be. Blonde is a bad movie, but it is not misogynistic out of malice but rather from completely vapid stupidity. Andrew Dominik’s failure is not that he did not accurately represent Marilyn Monroe’s life but that he made a terrible adaptation of a novel. It has no narrative threads or thematic consistency to tie everything together and comes off as an incoherently angry waste of time. 

Based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates (< — this is vital to understand), Blonde is an imagined retelling of the late Marilyn Monroe’s life. The film is nonlinear, cutting out big chunks of the actress’s life and jumping around in time. The focus of Dominik’s adaptation is on the way Marilyn was exploited & abused by the Hollywood system, how a myth was shaped for public consumption while the real person was buried under it all. Recurring themes in the picture are Marilyn’s unresolved daddy issues, always finding a man to be with, and seeming to call them all “daddy.” She also deals with the guilt she feels over having abortions. Eventually, it overwhelms her, and she tries to use pills & alcohol to self-medicate but overdoses. Cue end credits; thank god it’s over.

I don’t think a film about how Marilyn Monroe was exploited is terrible. She was not taken care of, resulting in her chemical dependencies and, ultimately, her overdose death. One thing that I didn’t see anyone talking about is that it is not the first adaptation of Blonde. In 2001, a television mini-series version aired on CBS in two parts. At the time, Variety’s critic Steven Oxman said that the mini-series was approached as an adaptation of a work of fiction and that the filmmakers could “be far more imaginative in their suppositions about the character’s private thoughts.” On Letterboxd, the user review average for this adaptation is 2.9, while Dominik’s film has 2.2. It seems that the problem isn’t just in Dominik’s personal take on the book or Marilyn. Maybe Blonde is just a controversial take on the actress that has never appealed to a broad audience?

Author Joyce Carol Oates has insisted that Blonde not be seen as a biography but as a fictional interpretation, an imagined narrative about Monroe’s life. The book obscures the people in Marilyn’s life using initials and pseudonyms for the real men she had relationships with. I read over online reviews for the book and noticed a recurring theme, the people who liked it correctly referred to it as a narrative poem. That is the sense I got from Dominik’s film, that this is not intended to be the true story of Marilyn Monroe but a poem about her. Did he fail to make that something interesting to watch for three hours? Definitely!

I honestly don’t think Blonde is that interesting to talk about because it digs its own critical grave. What I found upsetting was that shallow reaction, a seeming inability to understand that we have the right & the ability in art to use real-life figures. If you were a Medieval Italian noble, I would assume you’d be upset about Dante’s Inferno, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong to make it. For me, it’s all about what you are trying to say. Do you want me to watch three hours of Marilyn Monroe having breakdowns and being sexually abused and guilted about her abortions? Okay, what are you trying to say? Blonde, the film says pretty much nothing. I don’t think Dominik has some hatred for Monroe; he is clearly upset about what was done to her, hence the fact that the abusive sex scenes are filmed in a way that makes the audience uncomfortable. However, during her time in her thruple, we see the sex as gentler, consensual, and loving. Dominik is making distinctions, yet he is still not saying anything other than presenting an act on camera.

What concerns me significantly is a cultural expression that depictions of sexual abuse are inherently wrong. I completely understand people not wanting to watch media that is explicit. You should watch the movies you want to watch. But I think it was pretty clearly labeled and talked about that this would be an uncomfortable movie. So the portion of people that don’t like the film because it depicts sexual exploitation “just because” are wrong. If we don’t have the freedom to show horrible things like this in art, then we empower people like Harvey Weinstein and his ilk who would love a return to the repressed 1950s. 

Your problem should not be the images of the acts but the lack of purpose and direction in the film. I don’t need Dominik to plaster a moral of the story at the end, but there should be a clear idea of what he’s trying to tell us that we don’t already know. Andrew Dominik’s Blonde is a bad movie because it is reductive. There is gorgeous filmmaking craft on display here; that’s inarguable. But it amounts to a whole lot of jerking off. I can’t tell you how often my mind drifted while watching Blonde, trying to pay attention when I knew what I saw was self-important wankery. 

I don’t know if Blonde can be adapted to film in a way that works. It certainly hasn’t to date. That may speak more to medium than message, though. I strongly feel that most comic book stories and characters do not work in movies. The medium in which a piece of art begins is often the best, but not always. You will lose some essence of the original thing when you transition from book to film or comic to television show. The hope is that the strengths of that new medium are used to fill in the gaps. There is no point if you adapt something 1:1; the artist making the adaptation should add something. Dominik did, I guess, but what he added really sucked. I wouldn’t recommend Blonde, as it is simply a film that got unnecessarily hyped by Netflix. And their strategy worked, Twitter was abuzz for a good week before the attention span waned and shiny new things came into view. It speaks to the disposability of mainstream American movies at this point. There’s so much being put on our plates every week, and it ends up being flavorless and bad, completely forgettable, having no lasting impact on the culture, and just fueling internet arguments for a few days.

2 thoughts on “Movie Review – Blonde”

  1. Pingback: Fall 2022 Digest

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