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Saturday, October 1, 2022

Blonde: Only the Acting Was Excellent

Just watched Blonde on Netflix. I'm sorry to say I found only the acting was excellent.

Let's talk about that excellence first. Ana de Armas as Norma Jeane delivered an Oscar worthy performance, conveying the 20% bravado/80% vulnerability that we think we know of Marilyn just perfectly. The voice, the facial expressions, and body language were so good, I could believe I was seeing Marilyn on the screen.

Adrien Brody as "The Playwright" aka Arthur Miller was also superb, not ever really understanding Marilyn, flattered and impressed not just by her beauty but more by her intelligence. Bobby Cannavale as "The Ex-Athlete" aka Joe DiMaggio also gave a strong, if somewhat obvious performance (not his fault, since he didn't write the dialogue). And Julianne Nicholson gave a memorable performance as Norma's mother.

As for the rest -- the story, the pace, the intensity of many of the scenes -- not so good at all. First, to be clear, I obviously know nothing of Norma/Marilyn personally. And I haven't read the "novel" by Joyce Carol Oates that Andrew Dominic's movie is based upon, so I can't say how true the movie was to the novel. (I put "novel" in quotes because the amount of truth in her accounting of Marilyn's life and death has been under debate since the book first was published back in 2000.) But whatever the source of this lurid accounting on the screen, I don't get why Miller and DiMaggio had to go nameless. (I would add that, at least here in the United States, the law says that the dead cannot be slandered.)

But namelessness is the least of this narrative's problems. Norma/Marilyn dies, according to the movie, either accidentally or deliberately taking too many pills and alcohol because she's devastated that someone, obviously not her father, who had been writing to Norma as her father for years, admits that he really wasn't her father? Unless that truly happened, that's a pretty lame reason, given what the movie previously shows us about Marilyn's surprising resilience, rescuing her time after time. Not to mention that someone with her intelligence, which was well portrayed in the movie, surely would have realized that the "tearful father" who communicated with Norma/Marilyn over the years but never showed up as he was promising to do, certainly was not her father.

And the scenes ... with the exception of most of the Arthur Miller segment, which at times had a real tenderness, the overall story was a continuing series of scenes, one after another, that were punches to the stomach and the soul.

Ok, I will admit that the closing scene did have a flash of perverse poetry, perhaps, with Marilyn posing and smiling at us, her audience, after she was gone. It felt like a cinematic embodiment of Bernie Taupin's words in the Elton John song, "Goodbye Norma Jean," about all the papers having to say was that Marilyn's body was found in the nude. Even in death, her body was exploited, with whether or not this was what she wanted never being known for sure.

But as for the rest, I suppose this is a question of personal taste, but the tableaus were just too unpleasant, viscerally revolting, even if the events they were portraying were necessary to see in any form in this movie. The John F. Kennedy fellatio scene was demeaning to everyone -- including the viewer -- not to mention that who knows if this actually happened. And while we're on the JFK-Marilyn relationship, why not show the famous "Happy Birthday Mr. President" iconic scene from Madison Square Garden, which was real and stunning?

So, though I'll take a chance and see any movie about Marilyn Monroe, only the acting and a sparse few scenes save me from saying I'm sorry I wasted my time on this trauma porn. 


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