Rightwing Film Geek

Oscar-bait season, part 1

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MONSTER (Patty Jenkins, USA, 2003, 7)

OK, Charlize Theron IS in full-beg “please give me an Oscar” mode, uglying herself up to play prostitute and serial-killer Aileen Wuornos. But just because you beg for something doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it (and I’ve thought Theron one of the better actresses among Hollywood hotties for some time; you can see behind her eyes).

This is a great performance, in no small part because it’s not all just Nervous Twitching Tics and Big Moments. Those tics becomes stronger later in the film, but by then her murder “career” is spinning out of control and the excuses Wuornos makes to herself for her murders are becoming thinner and thinner. She’s losing her grip, but in a believable arc.

monsterpair.jpgBut what makes the performance is how she inhabits the character’s body language earlier — Theron nails a certain sort of habitual swagger in the walk, and a bored look on her face while hooking. She’s just as believable sitting at a dive bar, soaked, drinking her last $5, and communicating one of the most difficult emotions to convey — dead-end tiredness. We don’t even need the line saying that she had decided to kill herself if God didn’t send her some future — in the person of lesbian Christina Ricci, who becomes her lover and eventually inspires her murder rampage. Ricci is … yawn … as terrific as always, though again in the underappreciated “straight man” … uh … role.

I do have one problem with this film though. In his panegyric to MONSTER (which he named the best film of the year), Roger Ebert says, “There are no excuses for what she does, but there are reasons, and the purpose of the movie is to make them visible.” I don’t agree. I think the film dances damn close to making excuses for Wuornos — not because reasons = excuses (clearly, that’s not necessarily so), but because MONSTER caricatures the messenger in the two or three places where it makes some pretty obvious moral points.

For example, there is a scene where Ricci’s custodian/aunt tells Ricci that lots of people have shit childhoods but don’t become hookers or junkies (amp that up quite a bit to apply to murder). But the aunt character is played throughout the movie as a hysterical, prudish harpie and this particular line comes 5 seconds after she uses the word “nigger” and immediately says “now, I’m not a racist.” Yeah, right.

Still, there’s too much to like here to dismiss the film. And one other thing — MONSTER does demonstrate definitively and unquestionably that Journey is awesome.

January 26, 2004 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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