directed by Patty Jenkins
(Newmarket, 2003)

Monster is the fact-based story of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a highway hooker who was executed for killing seven men in the course of her rounds. But you'd never suspect it from the film's first few minutes. Instead, writer-director Patty Jenkins focuses on 7-year-old Aileen (Cree Ivey), a little girl with big dreams, a dancing princess just waiting to be discovered.

Six years later, Aileen's bursting at the seams to be uncovered, or, more to the point, uncovering herself pre-emptively. So what happened in those six years?

It takes Jenkins a long time to answer that question, and that's part of the narrative genius of Monster, the 2004 film that won Theron an Oscar, a Silver Berlin Bear, a Broadcast Film Critics Associated Award, a Chicago Film Critics Award, a Golden Globe, a Golden Satellite Award, an Independent Spirit Award, a National Society of Film Critics Award, a San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress. And if that doesn't convince you she's convincing, I don't know what will.

But Monster is more than a tour de force for its leading actress (calling her a lady might be a bit of a stretch). Instead, Monster is a twisted love tale in which Aileen, down and out and down to her last five dollars, finds love entirely by accident in a gay bar where she stops in to drink up the last of her money before committing suicide.

The object of her affections is Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), a young woman banished by her father to a friend's home in Florida after she got caught kissing a girl. To make matters even more odd -- which with Ricci is never all that necessary -- Selby has been deterred from her No. 1 mission in Florida, getting a job, by a broken arm.

With Selby's somewhat manipulative assistance, Aileen quickly gets over her objections to same-sex relationships, and it isn't long before Selby and Aileen move in together and become perhaps the oddest odd couple Hollywood has ever put on the screen.

Two events then occur which change Monster from a film about love to a film about love and death: Aileen's overly optimistic attempts to go straight so she can support Selby in the kind of life she wants, and Aileen's return to prostitution -- despite the fact that she has killed a john (Lee Tergesen) who raped and assaulted her -- so she can support Selby in the kind of life she wants.

What follows is a 109-minute nightmare, beautifully photographed and superbly edited. Scene after scene hangs in the imagination long after it's gone, most notably the twin shots of Aileen sitting under the bridge along the highway where she first contemplated suicide or Selby calling Aileen at the prison where she's being held for trial and insisting on revealing details that can only make matters worse for her former lover.

But in the end, the image you carry away is one of Theron, her immaculate beauty reduced to less than a shell of its former self. In her best scenes, she looks just awful. Yet never does she fail to capture your sympathy, or make you wonder if with one little break, things couldn't have gone differently for someone who never learned to live, or love, wisely.

Now that's acting.

- Rambles
written by Miles O'Dometer
published 13 November 2004

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