David at the movies: Marilyn revisited and reinterpreted
This biopic of Marilyn Monroe is based on a fictionalized biography by Joyce Carol Oates, so we don’t know how much of it is reality and how much fantasy. Like The Crown, the script flies close to what we think we know as the facts. Early scenes depict Norma Jeane’s wretched childhood with an unstable mother who nearly burned them both to death and was then committed to a mental institution. All through her life this Marilyn is obsessed with the absent father whose identity her mother never revealed.
One brutal session on the “casting couch” presumably represents the many such ordeals Marilyn endured. Her first lover here is Charlie Chaplin Jr whose baby she reluctantly aborts in order to secure the lead in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. There’s at least one more abortion and a miscarriage. She her husbands “Daddy”. Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) is a nice guy but he turns into a wife-beater. Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody) is another nice guy; we’re not shown the break-up of this marriage. The one scene with JFK suggests that the President was not a nice guy in the bedroom. The conspiracy theories about her death are not played out here.
It’s a long, slow movie – almost three hours. Ana de Armas is a sensationally good look-alike and does the breathy voice perfectly. She is nude for much of the movie, which may be intended ironically but it gives Blonde a cruel hard edge. De Armas is dubbed in the re-staged songs – could they not have used the original soundtracks? Some clever CGI inserts the new Marilyn in clips from the actual movies, including the famous subway vent scene from The Seven Year Itch and some high spots from Some Like it Hot.
The screenplay brings out Marilyn’s serious side: she has read Chekhov and takes acting seriously despite all her neuroses and on-set tantrums. But except for the recreation of her famous comedy films, this is a consistently bleak movie, concentrating on Norma Jeane/Marilyn’s endless exploitation; she gets very few happy moments. For me, My Week with Marilyn gave a more rounded portrait of both the actress and the woman, highlighting her great comic talent as well as her instability. And Some Like It Hot is still my all-time favourite movie!