A review of “Monster” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for graphic violence and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

 

 

A virtually unrecognizable Charlize Theron delivers a visceral and gut-wrenching performance as a reckless woman pushed to the edge and beyond.

Theron plays Aileen Wuornos, a white-trash drifter who’s been working the streets since age thirteen.  Men problems, money problems, and the daily-ness of life have combined to construct a hard edge around Aileen’s psyche.  Her desire for a little faith in something – in anything -- is palpably distressing.

Enter Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), a seemingly innocent student who takes a shine to Aileen and vice versa.  Spotting an opportunity for some kind of a connection, Aileen makes an awkward sexual advance.  Selby, a “recovering” lesbian, sparks to Aileen’s pathetic desperation, and reluctantly agrees to move in with her.

Once a victim always a victim.  Determined to catch a break, Aileen sets out to land a job so she can support herself and Selby the old-fashioned way.  Her aggressive attitude lands her exactly nowhere; her frustration building to the boiling point.  Falling back on her old hooking habits, Aileen is manhandled by one of her johns and blows the creep to smithereens in a bloody and vicious frenzy.

The real Aileen Wuornos was executed last year after serving twelve years on Florida’s death row for the brutal killings of six men. Monster has its authentic moments; rough-edged and gruesome.  When focused on its inherent sexual politics it reeks of conflict and pathos. But Aileen’s troubling relationship with the mercurial Selby isn’t handled as skillfully, due to Ricci’s weak acting chops and a bit of tired scripting from writer/director Patty Jenkins. 

The rough edges of Monster’s TV movie of the week sensibility are smoothed over a la the virtuoso performance of Theron, typically the epitome of movie glamour.  It’s easy to don pounds and paint Hollywood style, but Theron’s entire being is transformed with startling nuance.  Abused, cheap, and rejected, her anguish-in-the-raw is the stuff that Oscars are made of.