‘Blonde’ Review: Exploiting Marilyn Monroe for Old Times Sake

Given the humiliations and horrors Marilyn Monroe experienced over the course of her 36 years, including her family’s tragedies, her mother’s abuse, her time in an orphanage and foster homes, her stints of poverty, her unworthy film roles, taunts about her intelligence, her battles with mental illness, her substance abuse issues, and her sexual assaults, it’s a relief that she was spared Blonde’s vulgarities, the newest teen movie.

Hollywood has historically consumed its own, including its dead. It should come as no surprise that the industry enjoys producing movies about its victims and martyrs given that it has also always enjoyed producing movies about its own equipment. Renée Zellweger portrayed Judy Garland at the peak of her turbulent life in the film “Judy” three years ago. The nearly three-hour-long film “Blonde” embraces a depressingly well-known trajectory, beginning with Monroe’s unhappy infancy and revisiting her brilliant but precarious stardom, her depressingly violent marriages, countless well-being spots, and disastrous downward spiral.

The movie cuts back to a sad, lonely little child named Norma Jeane with a horrible, mentally unstable single mother, Gladys, following a brief prelude that introduces Marilyn at the height of her celebrity (Julianne Nicholson). Gladys is frigid and violent in childhood, while Norma Jeane is slipping into maturity. Childhood is a horror show (a fine if overwhelmed Ana de Armas). She begins modelling for cheesecake publications and quickly breaks into the film business, which is another nightmare. She is attacked by a man, here called Mr. Z, who seems to be modelled on Darryl F. Zanuck, the longtime boss of the 20th Century Fox studio where Monroe first found fame, not long after setting foot on the site.

The 2000 Joyce Carol Oates book, a lengthy (738 page hardcover), dramatised chronicle of Monroe’s life, served as the basis for “Blonde.” Oates uses the historical record as inspiration for the book but also plays with the data. She concocts a ménage à trois for Monroe and expresses her apparent thoughts, along with during a risqué tryst with an unfriendly President John F. Kennedy. The critic Elaine Showalter claims in the book’s preface that Oates utilised Monroe as “an icon of twentieth-century America.” A woman, Showalter goes on to say later without much conviction, “who was much more than a patient.”

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