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Blonde movie review: Marilyn Monroe reduced to a hapless victim in tragedy-laden biopic

Also reviewed this week: It Is In Us All

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Ana de Armas is very convincing as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde

Ana de Armas is very convincing as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde

Cosmo Jarvis plays an English businessman in It Is In Us All

Cosmo Jarvis plays an English businessman in It Is In Us All

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Ana de Armas is very convincing as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde

Blonde (16, 166mins)

A decade in the planning, finished a year ago and released by Netflix to coincide (more or less) with the 60th anniversary of its subject’s death, Blonde delves deep into Marilyn Monroe’s miseries with a little help from Joyce Carol Oates.

It was her highly inventive novel that inspired Andrew Dominik’s biopic, which was postponed several times as he sought his perfect Marilyn.

In Ana de Armas, he has found her and though the actress has had to put up with crass mutterings about her Cuban origins, she acquits herself brilliantly in a film that plunges us into celebrity hell.

The grim bones of Norma Jeane Baker’s life are well known, which allows Dominik to use cinematic shorthand and visual flourishes as he whisks us through the actress’s short but action-packed life.

Blonde is a sort of horror film and the chills begin with Julianne Nicholson’s terrifying portrayal of Marilyn’s mother, Gladys Pearl Baker. Nicholson plays Gladys as an unhinged maniac who hates her child for ruining her life and, at one point, tries to drown her.

The real Gladys spent most of her adult life in an asylum having been diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, leaving young Norma Jeane at the whims of foster homes, and variously competent stand-in parents. But the film glosses over most of this and rushes us forth to Norma’s early adulthood.

Having fallen in love with movie make-believe as a child, she’s now determined to become a film actress.

Whatever magic she expected to find in Hollywood, her illusions are quickly shattered: according to this film, Norma was raped at an early casting audition.

Subtler humiliations will follow, as Norma’s attempts to prove herself an actress are derided by male producers and directors, who’d rather ogle her departing behind.

Norma changes her name to Marilyn and early roles reveal the on-screen charisma audiences will come to love. But as her profile grows, the objectification intensifies as misery is piled upon misery by miscarriages, studio-funded abortions and bad marriages.

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First up is baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, played with brooding menace by Bobby Cannavale.

Joltin’ Joe showers her with flowers and is down on one knee before you know it. But a jealous streak soon presents itself and after witnessing Marilyn’s famous dress-blowing scene on the set of The Seven Year Itch, he beats her up.

Husband number two, playwright Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody), initially seems a better bet, but grows remote once he sees how messed up she is, and their marriage is fatally damaged by a heart-breaking miscarriage.

We all know how Monroe’s story ended and Blonde takes its own sweet time getting there. But the tale is told with some distinction, as Dominick, his cinematographer Chayse Irvin and editor Adam Robinson push and pull the medium of film to drag us inside Marilyn’s extended nightmare.

On the face of it, De Armas doesn’t look much like Monroe, but her ability to ape those familiar gasps and pouts and Marilyn’s breathy voice is uncanny, and you quickly forget she’s an actress playing a role. In a sense, she becomes Marilyn.

After a forceful opening 90 minutes though, Dominik’s drama loses focus and might have ended a good half hour before it did.

Instead, Marilyn’s troubles intensify until all we can see is a wailing ball of misery. Blonde’s aim might have been to decry the cruel treatment of Marilyn, the ruthless objectification, but in the end, it could be accused of doing the same.

The real Monroe cut her hair into a bob and dyed it blonde, staged her own publicity stunts and created the persona that made her famous. All she is here is a victim, getting slapped and punched, ogled and raped, forced into fellating a Kennedy.

In Blonde, her agency has been removed to make a heavy handed point, leaving behind a tearful rag doll. Watching the film, I couldn’t help wondering how Marilyn would have felt watching it. She would have hated every minute.

Rating: Three stars

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Cosmo Jarvis plays an English businessman in It Is In Us All

Cosmo Jarvis plays an English businessman in It Is In Us All

Cosmo Jarvis plays an English businessman in It Is In Us All

It Is In Us All (15A, 92mins)

Set on the lonely back roads of rural Donegal, Antonia Campbell-Hughes’ debut feature stars Cosmo Jarvis as an English businessman whose sense of entitlement deserts him during a disastrous trip to Ireland.

Hamish Considine (Jarvis) has come to Donegal to sell the remote house his aunt owned. But on the way there, his hire car collides with a vehicle containing two teenage locals, one of whom dies.

Hamish has sustained serious injuries, but discharges himself early from hospital and travels to his aunt’s house to heal alone.

There, woozy from painkillers, he starts to find out more about the life of his late mother and is befriended, if that’s the word, by Evan (Rhys Mannion), the other survivor of the crash.

What the boy is up to exactly remains a mystery, and meanwhile, Hamish is plagued by a mounting sense of dread. Campbell-Hughes’ film is stylishly made on a low budget and she has a painterly eye for landscape and domestic detail.

The film’s plot is slight, however, and quickly stretched thin. But Jarvis has the coiled energy of a young Brando and is terrific here, as usual.

Rating: Three stars

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