Walt Disney Co. via Everett Collection
When it comes to Old Hollywood, there is one name that has come to represent all of the glamour, intrigue and scandals of yesteryear: Marilyn Monroe. Therefore, it’s no surprise that yet another Marilyn-centered project is in the works, this time with Jessica Chastain shimmying her way into the role. The Oscar nominee is set to star in the big screen adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ fictionalized biography, Blonde, which will be helmed by The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford writer/director Andrew Dominik. The project has been in the works for some time now, with Naomi Watts attached at one point to star, but it seems that Chastain’s involvement may be exactly what Blonde needs to get off the ground.
The film, which Dominik has previously described as a “really sprawling, emotional nightmare fairy-tale type movie,” follows a reincarnated Marilyn Monroe as she tells her own account of her tragic life, and how she transformed herself from Norma Jean Baker into the biggest movie star on the planet. While it seems as if Blonde will tackle Monroe’s legend from a slightly different perspective, it’s still difficult to muster up a great deal of excitement for the film. After all, there have been so many films, television series and novels recently revolving around the icon and her tragic life, from traditional biopics like My Week with Marilyn to the star-studded documentary Love, Marilyn to making her the subject matter of the fictional musical in Smash. We’ve heard Monroe’s story told a million different ways, and, frankly, it’s starting to lose its charm.
It’s officially time for Hollywood to stop producing Monroe-related projects, at least for a while. It’s understandable that Monroe, possibly the most famous movie star of all time, would be the inspiration for countless creative endeavors, but all of these films just seem to present the same information and act out the same events, with only the subtlest of details to differentiate them. It’s always about the separation between who Monroe was to the world — the most glamourous, beautiful, mesmerizing woman to hit the silver screen — and who she was behind the scenes, and the internal conflicts she dealt with on a daily basis. And while that makes for an incredibly compelling story, the kind both writers and actors dream of sinking their teeth into, it’s exhausting for audiences to see the same thing over and over again.
Monroe’s story might incorporate everything that filmmakers find enticing, but there are only so many ways to tell it before it starts to become repetitive, which is going to make it harder to attract audiences to come see it. Sure, the glitz and glamour of Old Hollywood tends to go a long way in getting moviegoers into seats, but if they feel they’ve already seen a film or if it doesn’t seem to offer anything new to keep them excited and engaged, they’re going to feel it’s a waste of time. Blonde is not just going to be competing against the other films being released at the same time, but also against all of the Monroe-related films that came before it.
Her legend is well-worn territory at this point, and so filmmakers who are interested in it need to find a way to make their project stand out. As a prominent historical figure, especially one who is portrayed so often onscreen and in pop culture, every detail of her story has been put onscreen at least once, which means that no matter how a project attempts to differentiate itself, it always ends up recycling the same information over and over again. It also means that there are numerous stories about Old Hollywood that are left untold, stories that are just as compelling, enticing and heartbreaking as Monroe’s.
And there are countless Golden Age movie stars who are overlooked or forgotten, despite living the kind of lives that are ideal cinematic inspiration. Despite starring in one of the most scandalous films of the time at age 18, escaping and unhappy marriage and Nazi-occupied Austria while disguised as her own maid and inventing the technology used in modern wireless communications, Hedy Lamarr has surprisingly never been the focus of a Hollywood film. Rita Hayworth’s difficult journey to Hollywood stardom — which included getting electrolysis to change her hairline in order to hide the fact that she was Spanish — and tumultuous relationships with many big names would make an incredibly juicy biopic. There’s never been a film about Clara Bow, the It Girl of the Roaring ’20s, or Josephine Baker, the first black woman to star in a major movie, or Marlene Deitrich, who defied conventional gender roles and had a string of affairs with both men and women.
All of these stories would offer the same combination of glamour, intrigue, and emotion (some would even be perfect for Chastian, if she’s looking for a follow-up project) without retreading the same ground that yet another Monroe film does. We’re just as interested in getting a behind-the-scenes look at the Golden Age of Hollywood as the filmmakers who churn out movie after movie about Monroe are, but there are plenty of other places to look for inspiration. Sticking with the same old story is fine, but after a while, the sparkle starts to dull, and audiences become bored. At this point, another Monroe film just seems lazy, like the endless stream of sequels and reboots of lackluster action films. It may have been a big box office draw at one point, but now, it’s just tired.
Chastian is an incredibly talented actress, and she’ll likely give an incredible performance, one that incorporates all of the vulnerability and glamour that Monroe’s story requires. But it’s time for that story to be laid to rest for a while, and it’s time for Hollywood to let some other stars shine.