Ardustry Home Entertainment // 2001 // 240 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Cynthia Boris (Retired) // February 21st, 2006
The brightest stars burn out the fastest
There are only a few people in this world who are known by a single name. Elvis. Brando. Bogart. Marilyn. Despite the thousands of women named Marilyn in the world, there's no mistaking who you mean when you utter that name. The one, the only Marilyn Monroe. This is her story...sort of. This is Blonde.
Marilyn Monroe was more than a star. She was a brand. A package, put together by studio execs and talent agents -- and inadvertently, her mother. She had a strange, tumultuous childhood; a faltering rise to fame; and magnetism that captured everyone she ever met. You'll get it all in this four-hour CBS mini-series aired in 2001.
Poppy Montgomery (Without a Trace) takes the starring role in this uneven vehicle based on the book by Joyce Carol Oates. The story starts with Norma Jean's childhood years, introducing us to her mother (Gladys Baker, the terribly miscast Patricia Richardson, Home Improvement), grandmother (Della Monroe, the equally miscast Ann-Margret, Bye Bye Birdie), and creepy-but-well-meaning foster mom, Elsie (Kirstie Alley, Cheers).
The middle of the film gives us a look at Marilyn's attempt at being a normal housewife, her move into modeling, nude modeling, and eventually her turn to acting. Painting her as a poor, used-and-abused, naïve country girl, the final leg of the film gives us a rapid-fire overview of her love life -- including the erotic threesome of herself, Cass, and Eddy G (Patrick Dempsey, Grey's Anatomy and Jensen Ackles, Supernatural) to lovers who are identified only as The Playwright (Griffin Dunne, An American Werewolf in London) and The Baseball Player (Titus Welliver, Deadwood). Gee, I can't imagine who they're supposed to be!
Since that's already more than you can comfortably cram into four hours, the mini-series ends just short of Marilyn's famous Kennedy birthday serenade three months before her tragic death.
The sordid tale is interspersed with odd, therapy-like sessions between Marilyn and her cohorts. Throughout the film, the action is stopped and a single character appears, talking directly to the camera, offering psychological insight to what you've just seen.
Oh, where do I begin? First off, it's always a risky proposition, telling the life story of a person as famous as Marilyn Monroe. There are so many preconceived notions, whether right or wrong. So many distorted truths. So many minutes of a life forcibly compacted into four hours. The truth is you can't cover a person's life in that amount of time -- let alone a life like hers -- yet filmmakers try and try again.
This time around they used Joyce Carol Oates' book as the source material. Therein lays the rub. The movie begins with a title card which states:
"Although the following film depicts some actual persons and events, it is a work of fiction."
Now, if you were making a movie about my life, I can understand why you'd want to fictionalize the events. I can also understand why movies take dramatic license, usually combining several characters into one for clarity's sake when making a biopic. But to come right out and say "hey, this appears to be a movie about Marilyn Monroe and yes, there are people in it you'll recognize, but it's all made up"? That's just plain weird. To top it off, the most interesting part of the movie (in my slightly biased opinion) is apparently the most fictionalized portion of the tale!
The best word for this movie is uneven. Poppy Montgomery makes a wonderful Marilyn whenever the director allows her to rise from her somnambular state. Patricia Richardson and Ann-Margret are both terrific actors, but you wouldn't know it watching this. Richardson is just too sitcom-queen to carry off the psychotic edginess of Marilyn's mom, while Ann-Margret is too much of a screen queen herself to play the fading-rose grandma. Much of the miscasting is because recognizable TV actors were used in the lead roles; I imagine they were cast less for their suitability for the role and more for their draw with small screen viewers.
On the upside, there are a few captivating performers. Kirstie Alley acts like she's caught between a rock and a hard place. Eric Bogosian (Blade: Trinity) is convincing as the photographer that gets Marilyn to pose nude. The prolific Wallace Shawn (Crossing Jordan) draws a great deal of sympathy as Marilyn's first agent who falls madly in love with her.
And then we come to my favorite part (ironically, the part that aggravates the majority of Marilyn's fans) -- the (apparently) fictional threesome of Marilyn, Cass Chaplin, and Edward G. Robinson Jr. I'll admit that the imagery of being sandwiched between, kissed, caressed, and enjoyed by the multiple hands of handsome hunks Dempsey and Ackles influenced my interest in this portion of the movie. But there's another reason, too. I swear. It's at this point in the flick that Marilyn switches gears, puts the demonstrative movie execs in their places and finally starts to act like the formidable presence she was. There's still plenty of angst in the second half of the movie, but Poppy Montgomery seems so much more alive and emotionally attached to the role once we make the switch from Disc One to Disc Two.
Did I mention the word, "uneven"? Yeah, several times, and it still goes. I don't know if it's the script, the directing, or the attempt to cram so much into such a small space, but unevenness is all over the movie. Actors who carry off scene A with great aplomb bomb in scene B. (Which suggests it's not the actors fault.) The "talk to the camera" sequences mar the flow while the jumps in the timeline are so drastic you're often left wondering where you are and who the heck that's supposed to be on the screen.
This barebones DVD release adds nothing at all to the movie. Literally. Two weeks after the release, Lifetime Movie Network ran the mini-series; except for the addition of commercials, there was no difference between the two. Extras would have been nice. I would have loved a commentary by the director (to find out what in the world he was thinking!) or from Poppy on what it takes to be Marilyn. Visually, it's such a lovely piece, I would have liked to see a behind the scenes on the costuming and makeup; creating the look of Hollywood in the '30s, '40s, and '50s.
"Mixed feelings" best describes the experience of Blonde. On the upside, it's a pretty movie that captures the look and feel of Hollywood in its heyday, something I always enjoy. And there are moments when Poppy Montgomery looks so much like Marilyn, it's scary. But when you let it simmer for 240 minutes, you get something less than stellar. Blonde is a mildly intriguing, soap operatic look at the rise of a legend, but you can hardly call it a biopic since much of it is untrue. It makes me wonder if they wouldn't have been better off eliminating Marilyn from the equation and making it, instead, a Sydney Sheldon-style mini-series about a fictional actresses' rise and fall, because that's the story Blonde tells very well.
The court finds Blonde guilty of perjury and slander. All of the participants are sentenced to return to their jobs on their respective TV shows where they can again be enjoyed by the masses.
Review content copyright © 2006 Cynthia Boris; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Ardustry Home Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 240 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* The Official Marilyn Monroe Site