It is the start of a fabulous week but I still have a weekend leftover in the form of Blonde. And with that I finished watching the new English film Blonde on Netflix which marks the first NC-17 rated film(the highest censorship rating) to be streamed on a streaming platform. Based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, the film had its share of controversies which was quite natural given the controversial subject. The life of Marilyn Monroe was really hard but she was and is every bit of an icon for her valuable contribution to cinema. But again adapting fragments from her life was never going to be easy. And I say fragmented because Blonde is based on a novel by the same name which itself is a fictionalized biological drama. But then does Blonde(the film) manage to justify its portrayal of an icon, lets find out.
Story & Screenplay
Based on a novel by the same name, Blonde is a fictionalized account on the life of the icon Marilyn Monroe. This is veiled as a biopic but straight up it isn’t want. However, fictionalized biopics have in the past given a glimpse of the mind of the person on whose life the biopic is being made. A case in point is Spencer which was a fictionalized episode into the life of Diana which primarily had worked for me given the different shades which were being explored in her character. That would give a glimpse into her mind even though the events might be fictional. And same is what may have been attempted here. But a screenplay of about 170 minutes depicting just the pain and suffering of an individual can be excruciating for the audience too. This is an issue but the problem is much deeper.
I am a fan of character arcs and the world building that is done in films. So the start of the film is fascinating but terrifying at the same time. You are introduced to the protagonist who is a 9 year old who is interacting with her mother who is mentally unstable with no signs of her father(whom she longs for even after she grows up). The setup is fascinating because it does give the viewers a glimpse of things to follow. However, it is terrifying because you have defined an early character trait of having no respite to the character.
Very rarely I have come across dramas that I have loved and dismissed in a single breath. And Blonde is one of them. The deeper problem doesn’t lie with the writing(which does have minor issues too) but more so which the portrayal of the protagonist who was known for her skin show. If you are showing me the fact that she was exploited by so many people in her life(from the film industry and outside it), and this why you continue to objectify her through the lens then it is a big problem for me(and I am quite liberal on this aspect and speaking strictly from the cinematic point of view of this film).
To give you a perspective(I will showcase three instances with mild spoilers), there is a scene wherein the protagonist is posing in front of the press as a part of her new film The Seven Year Itch, in what is an iconic pose in many ways even today. Notice the different camera angles which almost prompts the user to objectify her through the lens of her then seething husband. In another instance in the final scene, she does dead lay in bed with the impression given to the user of her being without clothes even then(with the focus being on her thighs). And in another scene, she is assaulted physically which goes on and on and on. While the message here was for the audience to feel her pain, the objectification is something which was hugely problematic. This in many ways a cinematic flaw. The gaze is so important to drive home the point.
But there is much to like in the screenplay too. The complexities of her character are main focus points in the screenplay which is well done. I still do believe that there should have been some sort of character arc because the character even with her complexities seemed one dimensional on many ways. They could have mixed it up by showing some redeeming quality before venturing into this space which was probably the darkest I have seen on celluloid this year. Some of the most horrifying scenes are showcased be it a messy miscarriage or unending hallucinations or even instances where the reel and real lines begin to blur.
I really wanted to love this film much more given the traits which it was addressing. But to sit through a 3 hour film just witnessing the pain and suffering of a character attributing to her choices(strictly as shown in the film and NOT my personal opinion) was painfully excruciating. A film that does strike me was the Vidya Balan starrer The Dirty Picture which had a similar trajectory there. But in that film, the character was strong and bold and never mellow and broken and this is where Blonde misses the mark. These may very well have been choices but maybe a tap into her mental side was required a bit more when the character was this vulnerable. The focus on the skin show could have been a little less and more into her thoughts(especially in the first hour) which could have meant for something more cherished and meaningful. That would have also added an interesting dimension to the character which is already fascinating to begin with.
Certain names in the screenplay of a few characters are left out which again could have been used for an even more impactful viewing. But there is a certain element which is consistently drawing me to the film which has been lingering on in my head ling after the film is over. Perhaps, it is effective in its storytelling technique but a part of me was just disapppointed by the characterization. This review has been a challenge to pen down as so many thoughts are still running through my head. The conflict in me has never been so strong regarding a film which is stunning and depressing all in the same breath!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are subtle and make for a meaningful viewing. The BGM is brilliant and it does showcase the nuances of the character effectively(although we get to see few little of it of the actual character). The cinematography consistently shifts aspect ratios along with switching frequently from monochrome to a coloured viewing. This was an effective style of communicating the mind of the protagonist. However, certain camera angles objectifying the protagonist(and I am quite liberal on this aspect and speaking strictly from the cinematic point of view of this film) conflicts with the message of the film. The editing works well in many places as well. Director Andrew Dominik does a fabulous job in treating the film as a visual spectacle in many ways. The film is technically brilliant and it does show in its overall product. But he falters in the character sketch at the writing level. But from a directorial stand point, he does an excellent job.
The performances are excellent here. Julianne Nicholson as Gladys is excellent. Xavier Samuel as Cass and Evan Willian as Eddy have their moments to shine. Adrien Brody as The Playwright is such a brilliant actor and contributes to some of the best moments in the film. But the film undoubtedly belongs to Ana De Armas who shines as Norma aka Marilyn Monroe. She lives every bit of her character even though her character sketch is one dimensional. The pain which she showcases during an abortion and later during a miscarriage was gut wrenching in what was a very vulnerable portrayal of an iconic character. I really wish the writers had tapped a little more into her mind especially in the first half which would have added a fresh dimension to the overall role. But full marks to Ana here!
Blonde is fascinating and catastrophic, all in the same breath. Never before have I experienced a conflict like this for any other film. I have absolutely loved the film but I haven’t quite, both at the same time! Available on Netflix.