Director and writer Andrew Dominik’s fictional examination of Marilyn Monroe’s life, “Blonde,” is based on the Joyce Carol Oates’ novel of the same name. After a scene stealing turn in “No Time to Die” and “Knives Out,” actress Ana De Armas is primed for a career defining moment with “Blonde.”

Dominik’s script shows the audience Norma Jean Baker over the decades, starting with her ghastly traumatic childhood. A young Norma Jean (played by Lily Fisher) is constantly terrorized by her mentally unwell mother, Gladys (played brilliantly by Julianne Nicholson).

One unforgettable sequence finds Gladys in a manic state and driving Norma Jean toward the raging wildfires in the Hollywood Hills. It’s a stunning sequence from the gripping visuals to great acting on the part of Fisher and Nicholson.

Soon after that, Norma Jean is taken in by a neighbor couple who reported the mother. Not soon after her arrival, Norma Jean is dumped into an orphanage. It’s a life that seems to be destined for pain… and Dominik doesn’t blink as he takes the audience there.

Cuban star Ana de Armas arrives early in the film, taking over for actress Lily Fisher and never letting go of the spotlight. De Armas is absolutely intoxicating onscreen, whether she’s channeling her sex appeal for an adventurous menage a trois or raining down tears while delivering an emotional audition to a stunned audience of executives. De Armas is should be praised for her work here, despite the script’s repetitive beats and limiting arc.

Dominik finds a way of finding tragedy in every frame, even when De Armas is portraying Marilyn at the pinnacle of her career. Some viewers might be left wondering if this film might more aptly be named, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.”

Marilyn, or in this case Norman Jean, finds some level of happiness in her fictional open relationship with Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams) and the enthralling figure, Charlie Chaplin Jr. (Xavier Samuel). The boys seek to open Marilyn’s mind and explore each other in the process.

After a rather frame-bending and psychedelic love-making sequence, the trio speak about how both “juniors” (Chaplin Jr. and Robinson Jr.) hate being the product of famous fathers. Norma Jeane seems confused, she envies them in that they know who their father is. It’s a nice way to circle back to Norma Jean’s burning desire to know her father. This theme is revisited less effectively throughout the rest of the film.

Toward the middle and end of the film it becomes more and more difficult for Marilyn to be “Summoned” by Norma Jean. There’s a powerful scene where de Armas tries to summon Marilyn’s cheery persona in front of a mirror (reminiscent of Margo Robbie’s tearful mirror scene as skater Tonya Harding). This sequence highlights the frailty of Marilyn in her later years, much better than the montages of pill popping that populate the final act.

Dominik makes every effort to show Monroe’s beauty even in her downward spiral. Ultimately, the final act could’ve been shortened and audiences will struggle with this depiction of a woman so well known.

Letter Grade: B-

About The Author

Founder, Awards Editor

Byron Burton is the Awards Editor and Chief Critic at Awards Focus and a National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award winning journalist for his work at The Hollywood Reporter.

Byron is a proud member of the Television Academy, the Hollywood Critics Association (HCA), and the Society of Composers & Lyricists (SCL) for his work on Marvel's X-Men Apocalypse (2016). Working as a journalist and moderator, Byron hosts Emmy and Oscar panels for the major studios, featuring their Below The Line and Above The Line nominees (in partnership with their respective guilds).

Moderating highlights include Ingle Dodd's "Behind the Slate" Screening Series and their "Spotlight Live" event at the American Legion in Hollywood. Byron covered the six person panel for Universal's "NOPE" as well as panels for Hulu's "Pam & Tommy Lee" and "Welcome to Chippendales" and HBO Max's "Barry" and "Euphoria."

For songwriters and composers, Byron is a frequent moderator for panels with the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) as well as The ArcLight's Hitting the High Note Oscar series.

Byron's panels range from FX's Fargo to Netflix's The Crown, The Queen's Gambit, The Witcher & Bridgerton; HBO Max's The Flight Attendant, Hacks, Succession, Insecure, & Lovecraft Country; Amazon Studios' The Legend of Vox Machina, Wild Cat, & Annette; and Apple TV+s Ted Lasso, Bad Sisters, and 5 Days at Memorial.

In February of 2020, Byron organized and hosted the Aiding Australia Initiative; launched to assist in the restoration and rehabilitation of Australia's wildlife (an estimated 3 billion animals killed or maimed and a landmass the size of Syria decimated).

Participating talent for Aiding Australia includes Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Jeremy Renner, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Josh Brolin, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, JK Simmons, Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Danny Elfman, Tim Burton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Tim Allen, Colin Hay, Drew Struzan, and Michael Rosenbaum.

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