‘Blonde’ review: Netflix’s bogus Marilyn Monroe movie is a cruel slog

There’s nothing nice about “Blonde,” Netflix’s new Marilyn Monroe movie that hopes to be a major contender during awards season.

movie review

Running time: 166 minutes. Rated NC-17 (some sexual content). Out Sept. 16 in New York. On Netflix Sept. 28.

Based on Joyce Carol Oates’ controversial 2000 fiction book about the actress who died in 1962 at age 36 — many shocking events here come courtesy of the author’s tawdry imagination — the film is a fabulist’s tale of cruelty, objectification, pain and control.

It’s too much. “My Week With Marilyn,” starring Michelle Williams in the part, has its traumas for sure, but that movie is “Some Like It Hot” next to this journey to the depths of despair.

Director Andrew Dominik, with great flair, paints Monroe’s tragic life in brushstrokes of grief, close to what Pablo Larraín did with Jackie Kennedy in “Jackie” and Princess Diana in “Spencer.” 

However, while those at times indulgent, nonliteral movies had a grand emotional sweep that probed the women’s psyches, this one feels hollow and left me cold, despite the visual splendor and a committed turn from Ana de Armas as Marilyn.

Ana de Armas plays Marilyn Monroe as she endures countless traumas.
Ana de Armas plays Marilyn Monroe as she endures countless traumas.
2022 © Netflix

“Blonde” amounts to one brutally horrible moment after another — many of which might not have actually happened. Knowing she’d written a novel and not a real biography, obfuscating Oates didn’t even use the figures’ real names. The film follows suit.

Marilyn is handed off to a conveyor belt of awful men, most of whom she breathily calls “daddy” to infantilize herself and create a father figure she never had. 

She enters a sexually charged throuple with Charlie Chaplin Jr., referred to as Cass (Xavier Samuel), and Edward G. Robinson Jr. or Eddy (Evan Williams), who later threaten to sell nude photos of her to the press. 

"Blonde" imagines that Marilyn Monroe (de Armas), Charlie Chaplin Jr. and Edward G. Robinson Jr. were in a throuple.
“Blonde” imagines that Marilyn Monroe (Ana de Armas, center), Charlie Chaplin Jr. and Edward G. Robinson Jr. were in a throuple.
©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Colle

Joe DiMaggio, a k a the Ex Athlete (Bobby Cannavale), beats her in a fit of rage after he sees the famous airy white dress poster from “The Seven Year Itch.” 

John F. Kennedy, only spoken of as the President (Caspar Phillipson), makes her give him oral sex (this isn’t porn, but it’s very graphic) while he’s on the phone with advisors. He hangs up and yells, “You dirty slut!” — among other unprintable things. Marilyn then wakes up in a funk, having apparently been drugged by the commander in chief, and is brutishly dragged out of the White House by the Secret Service. 

There is zero historical evidence of any of these vicious misdeeds actually happening, which makes the nonstop abuse seem needlessly punishing, both for her and us. Not to mention uncomfortably exploitative.

Joe DiMaggio, referred to as the Ex-Athlete (Bobby Cannavale), beats Marilyn when he sees the poster for "The Seven Year Itch."
Joe DiMaggio, referred to as the Ex Athlete (Bobby Cannavale, left), beats Marilyn (de Armas) when he sees the poster for “The Seven Year Itch.”
©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Colle

There’s so much anguish, we eventually become numb to it over the nearly three-hour film. We come to know her only as a victim, not a fleshed-out person. Is that take enlightening? Meh. Entertaining? Not really. Long? Extremely.

Dominik’s film, both in color and black-and-white, is very beautiful to look at. Many old-Hollywood films appear as fake as a Wild West soundstage saloon, but “Blonde” captures the grimy glamour of the time. Years bleed into each other hazily like a dream.

And de Armas, with a hint of her Spanish accent, has real star charisma in the role akin to Monroe’s. She’s gutsy, raw and honest, even in a movie that feels fatally false thanks to dialogue that sounds like poetic narration.

Director Andrew Dominik shot "Blonde" in both color and black and white.
Director Andrew Dominik shot “Blonde” in both color and black-and-white.
©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Colle

A combination of difficult subject matter and the fact that de Armas is topless for a lot of the movie — often for no reason — earned it an NC-17 rating. Not that the Netflix app is gonna check teens’ IDs. 

Heed the Motion Picture Association’s advice. Most audiences will not enjoy this film, if they make it to the end. They’ll get the three-hour itch.