The Long and Winding Road to ‘Blonde’

While director Andrew Dominik hoped his fictional Monroe biopic, Blonde, would play at Cannes in May, it is now reported that once again, no Netflix movies will be screened in this year’s festival (see here.) Nonetheless, Blonde is still set for an autumn release, and in an article for Collider, Nick Laskin looks back on the film’s lengthy, and complex history. (I began tracking its progress on ES Updates in 2011, with more recent posts here.)

“By the time audiences are able to lay their eyes upon Dominik’s Blondethe film may not even qualify as a conventional biopic. That Blonde exists at all, and after years and years of delays, is something close to a miracle. The to-be-released film is a long-gestating, sure-to-be-controversial biographical drama (so, not a biopic) about the life of Norma Jeane Mortensen … If nothing else, let us look to the movie’s lengthy production period for evidence of how difficult it may have been for Dominik to bring this warts-and-all vision of Monroe’s life to the screen. The finished film that will premiere in theaters and on Netflix later this year will be one born of intense passion for and dedication to its source material: Joyce Carol Oates’ seminal novel about Monroe’s life, also titled Blonde.

Dominik had been discussing Blonde in interviews as far back as 2012, back when he was doing press for Killing Them Softly. The filmmaker insisted then that he was attracted to the psychological elements of Monroe’s life story, calling Blonde ‘an emotional nightmare fairy-tale type movie’ about an ‘abandoned orphan who gets lost in the woods’ … Naomi Watts was attached to the project shortly after it was first announced, and in 2014, it was reported that Jessica Chastain, relatively fresh off of an Oscar nom for Zero Dark Thirty, would star as Monroe … Unfortunately, the actress ended up dropping out, leaving the sure-to-be-expensive production without a lead. Dominik and his collaborators soldiered on, in search of their Norma Jeane.

In 2019, the filmmakers would find just that when it was officially announced that Ana De Armas, her knockout turn in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out still on the horizon, would be confirmed to play Marilyn in Blonde … Dominik also found the right partnership for Blonde when the film found itself at Netflix. The streaming giant has earned a reputation as a space where acclaimed, risk-taking filmmakers can craft their passion projects without interference or studio meddling (Roma and The Irishman are only two recent examples). Other cast members began to fill out the film’s ensemble: Adrien Brody as Arthur Miller, Bobby Cannavale as Joe DiMaggio (credited as The Playwright and The Ex-Athlete, respectively), with Julianne Nicholson (Gladys) Toby Huss (Whitey), and Dominik familiars Scoot McNairy and Garret Dillahunt occupying ancillary roles. Blonde, then, was a go, and will finally see a release this year.

Dominik has hinted that Blonde may be less dialogue-heavy than his earlier films; he’s even gone so far as to cryptically refer to the movie as ‘an avalanche of images and events.’ Given that Oates’ book is particularly brutal in describing the cruel hardships of Monroe’s life, there is every reason to believe that Blonde will be a trying sit (Dominik has called his own movie ‘demanding‘.) One salacious rumor about a potentially un-filmable scene has been put to bed, although the movie has recently confirmed its NC-17 rating, and Dominik has taken time to acknowledge the inclusion of a particularly disturbing rape scene. Oates herself has praised Dominik’s adaptation, calling it ‘brilliant‘ and emphasizing the incongruity of a male director, particularly one known for deconstructions of macho genre fare, crafting a ‘feminist‘ take of the life of one of history’s most famous women.”