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Blonde: Ana de Armas plays victimised Marilyn Monroe in Andrew Dominik’s long-awaited, Netflix-backed take on the Hollywood starlet

Back in 2010, it was announced that Naomi Watts would star as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde, an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates's sprawling, fictionalised biography of the same name, to be written and directed by Australian Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; This Much I Know to Be True).

Folding in the icon's family history of mental illness and a childhood marred by neglect and abuse, Oates constructed her protagonist as a woman divided: the sunny, sexed-up persona Marilyn Monroe, screen goddess, versus Norma Jeane Mortensen (aka Norma Jeane Baker), the shy, stuttering girl next door, fatherless and all but abandoned by a mother who would spend most of her daughter's life in a psychiatric institution.

The growing chasm between these two selves – public-facing and private – could only resolve in tragedy; whether by an intentional or accidental act of self-destruction, Monroe was dead at 36. Her body was found in bed at her recently purchased Brentwood, Los Angeles home in the small hours of August 5, 1962, phone in hand and a riot of pill bottles crowding the night-stand.

Watts had already, famously, played the role of dissociative blonde chewed up by the Hollywood machine in Mulholland Drive – the second of David Lynch's three möbius strip-shaped Hollywood chronicles (after Lost Highway, and before Inland Empire), released in 2001, not long after Oates's book.

Watts's Mulholland Drive character puts a hit out on the more successful actress who spurned her love; in Blonde, it's Norma Jeane who falls victim to Marilyn, her own prodigious creation.

Two decades on from Lynch's film and Blonde's publication, Dominik's much-anticipated movie has finally materialised, courtesy of Netflix – though with the younger and more sultry Cuban starlet Ana de Armas (No Time to Die; Knives Out) having slipped into the juicy lead role.

Prior to its Venice Film Festival debut, Blonde made headlines for getting slapped with an NC-17 rating by the United States ratings board – the first film slated for streaming to be deemed unsuitable for viewers 17 or under.

While Marilyn, all voluptuousness in figure-hugging silks and satins, was something of an icon of indecency in her day, an NC-17 rating augurs a level of explicit imagery that would never have survived the censors in the buttoned-up 50s – titillating some, while making others wonder: what moments of intimacy, what awful indignities, would Dominik stage for public consumption in the deceased's name?

So, so many.

Blonde's near 3-hour run time – from its star's childhood to her deathbed, punctuated by a barrage of flashbacks and -forwards – accommodates plenty of nudity, sex, and sexual violence.

On top of that, there's the vaginal POV shot of an abortion, the toilet-POV shot of Marilyn vomiting, and the groin-POV shot of Marilyn sucking off JFK.

I would ask that you forgive my crass language, but you needn't forgive Dominik's utterly and unintentionally crass film; there is no hint here of the humour that makes John Waters's transgressions, for instance, so wickedly delightful.

Blonde hews closer to the provocations of the incorrigible Gaspar Noé, but Lynch is the most obvious touchstone. There's the increasingly hallucinogenic storytelling style, evoking its leading lady's descent into madness and addiction, the strangely stilted dialogue, and a score (by Dominik regulars Nick Cave and Warren Ellis) that cribs freely from Angelo Badalamenti (distractingly so in one climactic sequence, set to a dead ringer for the Twin Peaks theme song).

Dominik doesn't possess Lynch's masterful control of tone, however. The film is mired in heavy-handed impressionism; its myriad aspect ratio changes and pivots between colour and black-and-white feel like fussy flourishes, and fail to elevate the cavalcade of traumas depicted above the kind of exploitation the film nominally exists to condemn.

For what quite possibly could add up to hours, the camera lingers insistently on de Armas's face as she weathers backhanded compliments, insults and assaults from both slimy industry folk and lovers.

Monroe's real-life hubbies Joe DiMaggio (billed as the "ex-athlete") and Arthur Miller ("the playwright") are played by Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody, while Cass Chaplin Jr and Eddy Robinson Jr (feckless sons of Hollywood royalty, both), whom Oates envisioned as forming a throuple with the ingenue, are played by Xavier Samuel and Evan Williams.

None of these men occupy the spotlight for long, however.

In the bedroom as on the sound stage, Norma Jeane appears constantly on the verge of tears, her big, beautiful eyes welling with emotion and widened with some stressful mixture of fear and wonder. Words trip out of her haltingly, as if she's so subsumed by abuse that she barely has the faculty of language. Of her limited vocabulary, the word in heaviest rotation is "daddy". (Take a shot for every time she says it and you too will die an early death.)

That Norma Jeane spends a sizeable chunk of her time at home in nothing but white bloomers only strengthens the impression that Blonde takes an infantilising view of its subject. Never mind that Monroe was famed for her intoxicating screen magnetism and sneaky "dumb blonde" wit, this woman can only experience "Marilyn" and her talents as the helpless host of a hostile alien parasite.

At the risk of perpetuating a fallacy sustained by commentators of the day and conflating Monroe with the characters she portrayed, allow me to quote Lorelei Lee, her gold-digging seductress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. To a man who expresses surprise at her mental acuity, she counters sweetly: "I can be smart when it's important, but most men don't like it." Dominik, it seems, is most men.

Without a doubt, the real Monroe was "a woman in trouble" – to borrow Lynch's description of the movie star spiralling out of control played by Laura Dern in Inland Empire; one that's equally applicable to Watts in Mulholland Drive, not to mention Twin Peaks' beauty queen Laura Palmer.

But Lynch's 'dead blondes' – for, like Norma Jeane and many others, death inevitably awaits them too – have spunk and strength and allure, even if the malevolent forces that plague them prove more powerful in the end.

Dominik, by contrast, shrinks Monroe (she who was praised as an American monument on the scale of Niagara Falls!) right down to convenient laptop-size and strips the version crafted by Oates of almost all agency, scrapping her quips and philosophical inner monologue.

What's left is a victim who'll readily give herself over to any guy who responds to "daddy".

So relentlessly punishing is this telling of the Monroe myth, it's as if Dominik thinks he's the first to notice that beneath the glitz and glamour, there's something rotten in the state of show business. Meanwhile, Hollywood history is riddled with variations on this theme, from the Lynch films right back to the story of aspiring actress Peg Entwistle, whose fatal leap from the 'H' of the old Hollywoodland sign in 1932 quickly became a cautionary classic: the movie colony destroys stars and wannabes alike.

Perhaps the definitive Tinseltown take-down is Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder's scathing 1950 noir. "You used to be big," the house guest says on recognising his host, one-time silent film star Norma Desmond. "I am big," sneers the older woman. "It's the pictures that got small." Poor Norma's delusional, sure, but on this matter she might also be right.

Blonde is streaming on Netflix.

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