Blurring fact and fiction, “Blonde” begins with a very young Norma Jeane and her relationship with her mentally disturbed mother (Julianne Nicholson), who was forced to give up her relationship, returning again and again to the fact that she never intended to leave. she didn’t know her father, while she wanted to replace him with famous men who pronounced her, married her and exploited her.
Norma Jeane eventually becomes Marilyn Monroe, yet she consistently speaks of her star persona in the third person, as if the image is separate and completely separate from the human behind it.
The irony is that as the New Zealand-born director works to humanize Marilyn — after numerous films based on her life, including for television — this version best represents her by repeating scenes from her films to portray the familiar image. De Armas and the incredible hair/makeup/costume work present these moments so strangely (occasionally interspersed with footage of Monroe’s co-stars) that you have to blink to make sure it’s not real.
Beyond that, the film stretches unhappily between color and black-and-white images of the actor being used and abused in a way that feels arbitrary. Dominik also begrudgingly confronts Monroe’s missed pregnancies by looking at the fetus inside her, which makes too much of the film symbolic.
A number of supporting roles are also impressive, including Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody Monroe’s husband Joe DiMaggio (again winking through the filming of “The Seven Year Itch”) and playwright Arthur Miller, respectively.
Still, “Blonde” is almost entirely a de Armas show, and as much as it’s worth sitting through, give it every ounce of credit. When Monroe tells DiMaggio in her honeyed voice, “I’ve been happy all my life,” the lie isn’t as convincing as it is heartbreaking.
In the private setting, the audience will be able to take all the breaks they need to deal with the experience, but they will not be able to escape the film’s relentlessly harrowing point of view. In fact, once you get past admiring de Armas’ role, that’s the only itch “Blonde” knows how to scratch.
“Blonde” opens in select US theaters on September 16 and on Netflix on September 28. It is rated NC-17.