Netflix review: Ana de Armas is heartbreaking as Marilyn Monroe in 'Blonde'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Sep 29 2022 02:05 PM

Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in 'Blonde'
Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in 'Blonde'

Up to when she was seven years old, Norma Jeane (Lily Fisher) lived with her psychologically-imbalanced mother Gladys (Julianne Nicholson). However, after an unfortunate incident of serious child endangerment, Gladys was sent to a mental institution, leaving Norma to grow up in an orphanage and foster families. Ten years later, Norma (Ana de Armas) became a pin-up model, which later led to a career in film acting.

Norma never met her real father, knowing him only from a single photograph. She would call the men she became romantically involved with, like the Ex-Athlete (Bobby Cannavale) and the Playwright (Adrien Brody), as "Daddy." However, throughout her life, she still held on to the dream of meeting her father, especially since she received a regular series of letters from her "tearful father" who also expressed a desire to meet her. 

Because of her popularity as a celebrity and her death at age 36 from a drug overdose, Marilyn Monroe remains to be a pop icon. People had such a long-held fascination about her life and loves, there had been several documentary films and biopics produced about her. Actresses who have played her include Mira Sorvino (Emmy nominee for "Norma Jean and Marilyn" 1996) and Michelle Williams (Oscar nominee for "My Week with Marilyn" 2011).

This latest biopic was much talked about from the get-go when Cuban actress Ana de Armas was cast to portray her. De Armas proved naysayers wrong as she totally disappeared into her iconic role with a mesmerizing and heartbreaking performance. The voice, the mannerisms, the smile -- it was as if De Armas was actually Marilyn Monroe. De Armas captured Monroe's vulnerability so well which made the sad outcome even more tragic.

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Based on Joyce Carole Oates' 2000 fictional biography, writer-director Andrew Dominik blurred the lines between Norma Jeane's person and Marilyn's celebrity, shifting from color to black and white, seamlessly morphing scenes of reality with her movies, then with her nightmares. Hearing her conversations with her unborn children was as distressing as seeing her suffer sexual and physical abuse almost all her unhappy life. 

There was much controversy when this Netflix production was slapped with a notorious NC-17 rating. However, those sexually-charged scenes were not as graphic as may be expected, even when the scene was as scandalous as a threesome with Charlie "Cass" Chaplin, Jr. (Xavier Samuel) and Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams), or as shocking as Marilyn's encounter with a certain US President (Caspar Phillipson). 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."