The Netflix film “Blonde” has received its first reviews, and critics are celebrating Ana de Armas’ commitment to the role while questioning the techniques of the film itself.
Directed by Andrew Dominik and rated NC-17, the film adapts Joyce Carol Oates’ novel of the same name. Alongside de Armas, cast members include Bobby Cannavale, Adrien Brody, Garret Dillahunt, Julianne Nicholson, Sara Paxton, Lucy DeVito and Scoot McNairy.
Some critics appreciate the different approach to the biopic of the woman born Norma Jeane Mortenson. Others find the mostly black and white film devoid of any resonance as to the bigger picture of who Marilyn Monroe actually was as a person.
Sophie Monks Kaufman of IndieWire writes that Dominik doesn’t quite give enough effort in saying or showing something about the pop culture icon.
“The film is Dominik’s finger pointed at everyone who had a hand traumatizing his leading lady, from her mother trying to drown her in the bath aged 7 to her death from an overdose of barbiturates at 36 after being used and abused by the Hollywood machine,” Kaufman adds.
Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson also points out the exploitation employed in the movie, noting the “boldly and complexly mounted” technique “could actually be in service of something far simpler and more base.”
“‘Blonde’ is a film partly about exploitation that might be exploitative itself. If the film is aware of that meta function, then there’s something interesting happening in it,” Lawson’s review continued. “If not, and Dominik thinks he is genuinely ennobling Monroe and expressing some kind of radical pity for her, then ‘Blonde’ is a little perverse.”
Of de Armas’ performance, Lawson adds: “De Armas is fiercely, almost scarily committed to the role, maintaining high and focused energy through every torrent of tears and screams and traumas.”
Some critics point toward the technique and tone of the film clashing with de Armas’ commitment to portraying Monroe, since the Monroe in this story doesn’t have much agency.
“[Ana] de Armas fulfills the mission of Dominik’s film, crafting a vivid and frightening picture of the madness of fame,” Lawson writes.
According to critics, the haunting, almost three-hour film follows many painful moments in Monroe’s career.
“Ana de Armas doesn’t inhabit the role of Marilyn Monroe. Rather, the role of Marilyn Monroe inhabits Ana de Armas — like a tortured, possibly malevolent spirit,” Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri writes.
As for that NC-17 rating, TheWrap’s Ben Croll writes,
“If ‘Blonde’ breaks little new ground in story and theme, it more than makes up the difference in audacity. Because Dominik goes there in oh so many ways, letting good taste fly in the wind as he finds a rather unconventional place for his camera in (several!) scenes of forced abortion and depicting a rendezvous between Monroe and JFK (lookalike Caspar Phillipson, who played the same role in “Jackie”) that leaves little doubt as to the transactional nature of this relationship, while more than earning the film’s NC-17 rating.”
Nancy Tartaglione of Deadline also felt that Dominik and de Armas sensed the ghost of Marilyn Monroe in making the movie.
David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter calls the film a “must-see,” even if one needs a shower after.
“Blonde” lands on Netflix Sept. 23 after premiering at the Venice Film Festival today.