Ana de Armas stars as Marilyn Monroe in Netflix's "Blonde."

Ana de Armas stars as Marilyn Monroe in Netflix's "Blonde." Credit: Netflix

THE MOVIE "Blonde"

WHEN | WHERE Streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The long-anticipated screen adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates' novel "Blonde," a fictionalized take on the life of Marilyn Monroe, arrives on Netflix after years of development.

The picture stars Ana de Armas as Monroe, with co-stars including Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody playing characters named Ex-Athlete and The Playwright, respectively, doubling for Monroe's real-life husbands Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller.

"Blonde" is written and directed by Andrew Dominik, best known for his work on the excellent Western "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford." It's also the first NC-17 rated movie to have been made by the streaming service.

MY SAY Far removed from a traditional biopic, "Blonde" is best understood as an abstract meditation on Monroe's celebrity. It lives deep within what it defines as an existential trauma built around a long history of abuse.

That's formed in a childhood where the person then known as Norma Jeane faced monstrous treatment by her mother, Gladys (Julianne Nicholson). It's expanded upon in the movie's depiction of a career and personal life where she could not escape the prurient and manipulative desires of the men around her, represented in everything from the rage directed toward her at home to slow-motion shots of the leering and growling public.

Everyone wants something of this person and virtually no one stops to consider her humanity. The version of Monroe seen in "Blonde" has no agency or control over anything.

The casting of de Armas has attracted a lot of attention, but there's little she can do with a character who is so defined by everything happening to her.

This Monroe is a hopeless, tragic figure, subject to an ordeal made all the more painful by imagery and camerawork that put the audience in some harrowing places best left undescribed here.

The picture makes no pretense of being a true story. It's trying to capture something experiential about the meat grinder of fame and the extent to which it destroyed this most iconic of icons. It's clear that there's some truth to this notion; Monroe scholars will surely weigh in on the extent of it.

But there's an overarching, self-indulgent pointlessness to it all. The movie does nothing to expand our understanding of one of the most significant pop-cultural figures of the 20th century.

Instead, it presents a manic vision of a life poisoned by a toxic industry, complete with constant aspect ratio shifts and a lurching from color schemes to black-and-white. It's a stylistic approach that amounts to little beyond calling attention to itself.

Defining Monroe by a slog from one brutal scene to the next en route to a fatal overdose shortchanges a fascinating person.

She was far more complicated than the individual put forth here. Just one example: the real Monroe took control of her career, worked hard to improve as an actor and founded her own production company. 

In its resolute focus on just one aspect of what being Marilyn Monroe must have been like, "Blonde" simply caricatures her once again.

BOTTOM LINE This is a one-note, simplistic movie that pretends to be something more than that.

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