The Unwatchables — Blonde

Perhaps the blame starts with Joyce Carol Oates. The prolific author of soullessly precise prose wrote the engine block–sized novel that writer director Andrew Dominik adapted into the film Blonde. Oates’s book of the same name is a fictionalized telling of Marilyn Monroe’s life, and it was kicked around by critics at the time of its release. In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani deemed Blonde “the book equivalent of a tacky television mini-series” and decried its “smarmy tone” while noting “pages and pages of the sort of heavy-breathing, romance-novel prose one would think beneath a writer of her distinction.” Because life is short, I haven’t read Blonde, but it sure seems that Dominik took a long moment considering every element of the exploitative storytelling that raised ire nearly a half-century ago and concluded with unseemly satisfaction that he could go lower.

Dominik’s Blonde is trash dressed up as art. The director is so enraptured by his own deployment of affected technique that he reflexively treats the task of cogent, emotionally consistent storytelling like a nuisance to be ignored. In theory, I’m all for biopics that transcend familiar patterns, but there’s no discernible internal logic to the way Dominik guides the film from scene to scene. That he seems most interested in dwelling on trauma suggests a certain von Trierian sadism at play in the filmmaker’s heart. Feints towards condemnation of the entertainment industry’s virulent undervaluing of Monroe’s commitment to the craft of acting are quickly undercut by a unshakable sense that Dominik is similarly disinterest in his subject as a human being rather than a batch of traits and signifiers that suit a predetermined appraisal of how much depth might be found in a bombshell.

In the lead role, Ana de Armas is clearly giving it her all, only to be betrayed by the director. The structure of the film repels the very concept of a through line, making it different to connect the Marilyn in one scene to the Marilyn in the next. It’s clear de Armas is often acting the hell out of individual moments, but they come across as disconnected exercises, a half-dozen character studies strung together into a swaying bridge. She escapes with more dignity than the other actors, whose performances are pitched at a cartoonish register. This is particularly true of Julianne Nicholson, who plays Marilyn’s mentally unbalanced mother as if she could exist only in a deranged fever dream. The takes Dominick chooses are like an act of career sabotage.

I made it approximate one hour and fifteen minutes into Blonde. There was still so much movie left at that point, so much sure-to-be-terrible movie.

Previously in The Unwatchables

— Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, directed by Michael Bay
— Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton
— Due Date, directed by Todd Phillips
— Sucker Punch, directed by Zack Snyder
— Cowboys & Aliens, directed by Jon Favreau
— After Earth, directed by M. Night Shyamalan
— The Beaver, directed by Jodie Foster
— Now You See Me 2, directed by Jon M. Chu
— The Mummy, directed by Alex Kurtzman
— The Counselor, directed by Ridley Scott
— Vice, directed by Adam McKay
— Savages, directed by Oliver Stone
— Welcome to Marwen, directed by Robert Zemeckis
— The Gentlemen, directed by Guy Ritchie
— Reminiscence, directed by Lisa Joy

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