Ana de Armas stars as Marilyn Monroe in (16s), which offers a fictionalised version of Marilyn’s life (it’s adapted from Joyce Carol Oates’ novel), in the process ripping the roof off the Hollywood dream factory to reveal the mincing machine within.
Opening in 1933, with the young Norma Jeane Mortensen terrorised by her mother Gladys (Julianne Nicholson), the film quickly establishes its central conceit, that of the psychological split between the private, introspective Norma Jeane and the bombshell Marilyn who would go on to star in and .
‘Marilyn is only a career,’ she says of the bubbly blonde persona; privately, Norma Jeane wishes she could wander off and ‘live in a Chekhov play'. Torn apart by these irreconcilable conflicts, always in search of the father she never knew [she nicknames all of her lovers ‘Daddy’, from The Ex-Athlete (Bobby Cannavale) to The Playwright (Adrien Brody) and on to The President (Caspar Phillipson)], Norma Jeane finds herself at the mercy of a Hollywood swarming with predators.
Adapted and directed by Andrew Dominik, pulls no punches in its depiction of the brutalising world in which Norma Jeane found herself. It’s a superb visual experience, with the story segueing from black-and-white to colour to reflect Norma Jeane’s transition from reality/nightmare to fantasy/living the dream, and there’s some clever fakery at play as snippets from Marilyn’s movies are reconfigured with de Armas playing the lead role.
That said, it’s a difficult watch at times, and particularly when Dominik seeks to emphasise Marilyn’s exploitation by placing the excellent Ana de Armas in similarly humiliating or degrading situations. Norma Jeane, a keen reader, might have been reminded of Marx’s line about history repeating itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Norma Jeane, who experienced tragedy enough for 10 lives, deserves better.