Andrew Dominic’s blond succeeds as a film precisely because it fails as a biopic. Starring Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe, blond begins with Marilyn’s childhood and ends with her death, but Dominik deviates considerably from the facts. The final scene of the film leads viewers to believe that Marilyn was the victim of her tragic fate, and despite her talent, she never had a chance to survive.
Based on Joyce Carol Oates’ bestseller, blond divides viewers with his speculative portrayal of Marilyn. Some argue that Dominik is misrepresenting Marilyn by prioritizing her most painful private moments over her numerous professional achievements. For nearly three hours, Dominik dwells on the abuse Marilyn endured, barely shedding light on the positive events that have shaped her career, such as when she announced the creation of her own production company in 1955. blond has a controversial NC-17 rating and features several scenes of sexual abuse and violence, alienating viewers even more with his dark vision.
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blond wants to shock, and Dominik’s feat is to subvert the biopic, a typically banal genre that functions as a tribute to stardom, in provocative ways. blond defies viewers’ expectations with its somber portrayal of Marilyn, forcing them to think about why they watch movies about famous people, especially ones like Marilyn whose life was cut short. A daring antibiotic, blond is a success when conceived as a cinematic experiment that comments on the consequences of fame as opposed to a fact-based account of Marilyn’s life.
Blonde isn’t a real biopic (and that’s what the genre needed)
blond changes from black and white to color and changes aspect ratio frequently, often in the same scene. These formal techniques differ from conventional biopics by denying complete immersion in the film. Dominik constantly reminds viewers that they are looking at a constructed work of art. De Armas’ meta-performance also creates more distance as she breaks through the fourth wall to address the camera, or in some cases doesn’t try to hide her Cuban accent while speaking like Marilyn.
To further destabilize viewers, blond deliberately avoids recreating Marilyn’s iconic moments for entertainment. Instead, viewers are forced to face the downside of Marilyn’s celebrity. Marilyn Monroe, one of the biggest movie stars, died young at the age of 36, and Dominik conveys the caustic effects of her enormous popularity. For example, Dominik’s staging of the famous scene from The seven-year-old itch (1955), in which a breeze from a subway grille blows Marilyn’s white dress above her thighs, exposing her body, plays like a disturbing horror. While a visibly terrified Marilyn tries to keep a fake smile, Dominik stumbles upon a group of men who are staring at her from a distance. In another scene towards the end, Dominik literally fast-forwards to the premiere of Some love it when it’s hot (1959), the pinnacle of Marilyn’s film career. Unlike recent biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) or Judy (2019), Dominik doesn’t sell easy-to-digest nostalgia. While the end of the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody presents the rock band’s dazzling Live Aid performance and Judy shows a triumphant Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to a sold-out crowd, blond robs viewers of an uplifting finale, preferring instead to highlight Marilyn’s suffering.
By refusing to celebrate, blond dismantles the biopic, which all too often glorifies celebrity culture without scrutiny. Despite some controversial artistic choices, Dominik deserves the credit for daring to be different. Rather than make another feel-good movie about a beloved star, he challenges viewers to think about why they’re drawn to Marilyn’s life, and whether she’s paid a price for their constant curiosity.