But too much of “Blonde” is about men chewing Marilyn up and spitting her back out. A studio executive known only as “Mr. Z”—presumably as in Zanuck—rapes her when she visits his office about a part. New York Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) seems like a decent and tender husband until he turns controlling and violent. Her next husband, playwright Arthur Miller (an understated Adrien Brody), is patient and kind yet emotionally detached—but by the time Marilyn is married to him, anxiety, booze and pills have wrecked her so significantly that no one could have helped.
She calls these men “Daddy” in the hope that they’ll function in place of the father she never knew but desperately craved, but in the end, everyone lets her down. And “Blonde” does, too, as it strands de Armas in a third-act sea of hysteria. As for the film’s many graphic moments—including one from the perspective of an airplane toilet, as if Marilyn is puking up pills and champagne directly on us—one wonders what the point is. Merely to shock? To show the extent to which the Hollywood machinery commodified her? That’s nothing new.
“Blonde” is actually more powerful in its gentler interludes—when Marilyn and Arthur Miller are teasingly chasing each other on the beach, for example, hugging and kissing in the golden, shimmering sunlight. “Am I your good girl, Daddy?” she asks him sweetly, seeking his approval. But of course, she can’t be happy here, either. All her joyous times are tinged with sadness because we know how this story ends.
More often, Dominik seems interested in scenes like the garish slow-motion of the “Some Like It Hot” premiere, where hordes of ravenous men line the sidewalks for Marilyn’s arrival, frantically chanting her name, their eyes and mouths distorted to giant, frightening effect as if they wish to devour her whole. He similarly lingers in his depiction of the famous subway grate moment from “The Seven Year Itch,” with Marilyn’s ivory halter dress billowing up around her as she giggles and smiles for the crowds and cameras. (The costume design from Jennifer Johnson is spectacularly on-point throughout, from her famous gowns to simple sweaters and capri pants.) We see it in black-and-white and color, in slow-motion and regular speed, from every imaginable angle, over and over again.
After a while, it becomes so repetitive that this iconic, pop culture moment grows numbing, and we grow weary of the spectacle. Maybe that’s Dominik’s point after all. But we shouldn’t be.
In limited theatrical release tomorrow. On Netflix on September 23rd.