There have been many movies, series, countless documentaries, and YouTube videos about Norma Jeane Mortenson, aka Marilyn Monroe. Based on the 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates, this is a fictionalized story of her tragic life & death.
Starring Ana De Armas as Marilyn Monroe, this movie was written & directed by Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and is unlike any bio-pic of Monroe you’ve ever seen. Guaranteed! More of an art-house, experimental film done by Alejandro Jodorowsky or David Lynch, Dominik plays with shutter speed, camera angles, aspect ratios, and has every other scene bounce back and forth from color to black & white. Oh, and there’s lots of gratuitous NC-17 nudity and sex for “artistic reasons”. This is one very surreal movie where this ‘life’ of Monroe is more the Cliff Notes of Monroe told in stops & starts. And most of it didn’t even happen.
Starting with 6-year-old Norma Jean (an excellent Lily Fisher) and her abusive, mentally unstable mother (a frightening Julianne Nicholson), we leap-frog to her posing nude for calendars, getting raped by a Hollywood studio exec, and going for movie auditions. After getting a few acting gigs, she hooks up with two gorgeous boy-toys, Charlie Chaplin, jr & Edward G. Robinson, jr. (Xavier Samuel & Evan Williams) who sexually awaken her. One abortion and some hit movies later, she meets baseball legend Joe Dimaggio (Bobby Cannavale) and they wed, but after she does that famous Seven Year Itch movie, she finds out he’s a drunken wife-beater. Yikes!
Divorced and in NYC, she falls for playwright Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody), thinking this time she’s found a husband who’ll treat her right. But, alas, after her miscarriage, she dissolves into a perpetual state of gloom & doom, relying on drugs and alcohol, lashing out at everyone, including director Billy Wilder. Towards the end, the FBI hooks her up with JFK for some sex, and that eventually leads to her untimely death at only 36 years old. Yeah, there’s a lot to unpack with this audacious and cinematic hopscotching of events.
On one hand, you have outstanding acting from a terrific cast, starting with De Armas, who is exceptional, selling this movie like she was going for an Oscar (which she just might!). Cannavale is scary good and Brody is wonderful, as usual. And you have to give kudos to Dominik for his meticulous recreations of several film scenes that look like the real thing. Many shots are filmed so beautifully by cinematographer Chayse Irvin, it’s jaw-dropping. But, geez Louise! Dominik really went nuts with his kid-in-a-candy-store camera-use approach to filming this! Nearly every scene transition is different from the last; will it be a 1:33 square ratio in black & white or a 2:35 wide-screen in Technicolor? Or neither?
And his script is pretty much the same way; you never know what’s coming next. Marilyn is depicted as a “piece of meat” that all men either want to bang, own, or ogle at. A tragic figure craving for love and respect, but rarely getting either. Monroe is the only fleshed-out character in the movie, while the others are mostly caricatures that represent the worst in humanity. This is an unsettling, disturbing, and unhappy look at Monroe’s ‘life’ that is difficult to watch, and at nearly three hours long and rated NC-17, it may not be worth it.
**Now streaming exclusively on Netflix