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Hollywood, Romance 

Blonde and Bros

click to enlarge The gays after ruining marriage for Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Bros

The gays after ruining marriage for Marjorie Taylor Greene.

BLONDE. Marilyn Monroe (neé Norma Jean Mortensen) has been dead now 60 years; nearly twice as long as she lived and a dozen times longer than the period of her working life. Her image, more than her acting work, which is truly formidable, sustains her as one of the undeniable icons of 20th century culture. And now a movie ostensibly about her — to me much more focused on the refractory nature of fame, identity under the spotlight, misogyny and the mechanized commodification of personhood — and based on a fictionalized quasi-autobiography published over two decades ago by Joyce Carol Oates (a "humorless broom," as one of my colleagues would have it). Manohla Dargis, in her New York Times review, of which I have admittedly only read excerpts forwarded by the aforementioned colleague, accuses writer/director Andrew Domink (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2007; Killing Them Softly, 2012) of necrophilia and lechery, among other crimes. Planned Parenthood (an organization I will always support) has decried the movie's depiction of abortion. Blonde has quickly become perhaps the most contentious work of commercial art of the year. One wonders why.

Blonde, at least as Dominik has rendered it for the screen (Oates' ponderous volume looms from my shelf, mocking me, unread) is indeed coarse, invasive and sometimes uncomfortably sexualized. In being so, it plays against the manufactured vision of Monroe (herself a false icon, even in her own time, a point to which the movie frequently returns), which lives on in the popular consciousness as just sexy enough to be non-threatening, a benign bombshell that dehumanizes gender identity. That lasting image, semi-satirized by Warhol mere years after the star's death, has precious little to do with the life lived behind the bleach and the smile; within that dichotomy, I think, lies the space Dominik and star Ana de Armas (transformed, devastating) explore, with nuance and force of will.

Structurally, Blonde hews to something like conventional biopic narrative — we begin at the beginning, with Norma Jean as a child (Lily Fisher), and proceed chronologically through her brief and difficult life — therein may lie the fundamental conflict. Because the movie departs almost immediately from any notion of conventionality and never pretends to tell anything like a straight story. While we become party to some of the star's thoughts, we experience them as visions, ephemera, echoed and imagined voices. The result is, as I believe Dominik has suggested, a veritable avalanche of sound and image that coheres into a gorgeously crafted but deeply discomfiting kaleidoscopic depiction of life lived at or beyond the limits of control. 

The problem, it seems, is that much of the audience would prefer their icons left alone, or revered simply and without comment, even if they do not have the faintest notion about the truth of the idol's inner life. 

I would contend that Blonde doesn't demean; in fact it does quite the opposite. By moving the camera back a step, putting it squarely on the shoulders of the male gaze, it examines, with sophistication the pressures of patriarchy and commerce, the fragility of the mind and the too-often ignored fact that celebrity does not, in itself, bestow health, stability or freedom.

Narratively, in performance and in technical execution, Blonde is a ferociously ambitious, challenging, often unpleasant work. Often objectively beautiful, finely wrought and composed, it has within it simultaneously hideous things, truths and lies and fevered imaginings explored but often unexplained. NC17. 206M. NETFLIX.

BROS. A simpler proposition, but maybe equally challenging for simple, provincial and heteronormative audiences: a romantic comedy about a couple of dudes falling in love, but also about the fact that gay relationships are different, not only from Wonder Bread hetero ones, but from each other and the whole infinite spectrum of human interaction. 

Bobby (Billy Eichner, one of the funniest humans to cross the transom of celebrity), an author, podcaster and noted public figure, has never found love. Forty years old and professionally successful (he has just landed a position as executive director of groundbreaking LGBTQ+ museum), he has all but accepted the notion that, despite his frustrations with a Grindr-based sex life, he may be single for the rest of his life. Enter Aaron (Luke McFarlane), an impossibly hot dude accused in asides of being boring. He is, in fact, not boring at all. A probate lawyer with dreams of making little chocolates for the world, he contains multitudes and might be just the person to get Bobby out of his own head, if Bobby can get out of his own head.

Co-written by Eichner and director Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors, 2014), Bros sets out to do the seemingly impossible in revivifying the romantic comedy genre. Not only does it succeed in so doing, it adds commentary and dimensionality to the tropes to create something decidedly new, sexy, refreshing and hilarious. R. 115M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre (707) 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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