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Blonde review: Dull trauma porn with no idea what it’s trying to say

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Dir: Andrew Dominik. Starring: Ana de Armas, Julianne Nicholson, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale. Cert 18, 165 minutes

Never mind the diamonds. I’ll tell you who isn’t a girl’s best friend: Andrew Dominik, the writer-director of Blonde, a merciless, dull, over-long riff on Marilyn Monroe. Across its lengthy running time, the Hollywood star has a time of it. She is nearly drowned by her mother. Raped at an audition. Forced into an abortion. Harangued by the unborn foetus she’s about to abort. Attacked by a husband she calls “daddy”. It’s no exaggeration to say that she cries in almost every scene. To borrow a phrase, if you can’t handle Marilyn Monroe as an adult woman in possession of agency, you sure as hell don’t deserve to make an almost-three-hour film about her.

But Blonde is not a bad film because it is degrading, exploitative and misogynist, even though it is all of those things. It’s bad because it’s boring, pleased with itself and doesn’t have a clue what it’s trying to say. Based on Joyce Carol Oates’s sprawling 700-page novel, which offers a fictionalised version of Monroe’s life, the script consists of the star saying things like, “she’s pretty, I guess, but she isn’t me” or, “I guess there isn’t any Norma Jeane, is there”. At one point, she declares “f*** Marilyn, she’s not here!” and slams down a phone. Insightful. All I could think was, “the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now”. This surface-level observation, that her constructed persona might have induced a sense of depersonalisation, does not feel revelatory or new. You’d expect to watch Blonde for what it might tell us about Monroe’s life, her legacy, or the culture that remains infatuated with her. You’ll find none of these things.

The film flits between scenes in colour and black and white, inserting real events like her marriages and film roles, with invented ones, such as a threesome with Charlie Chaplin’s son and Edward G Robinson Jr. As Monroe, Ana de Armas has an edgy, nervous energy. It’s a deceptively sophisticated portrayal, playing a person who is always playing a role. But she is kept in a place of perpetual skittishness that is exhausting to watch, in a performance so demanding that in one scene – a bedroom encounter with a president who is obviously JFK – she almost has to deep throat the camera. Julianne Nicholson is eerily disturbing as Monroe’s mentally unwell mother, but as her husbands Joe Di Maggio and Arthur Miller (here “The Ex-Athlete” and “The Playwright”), Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody have little to do but be in Monroe’s orbit, nastily or blankly inflicting more misery.

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