Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci give distressingly earthy performances in "Monster," a low-budget, high-profile biography of executed murderer Aileen Wuornos.
By LESLIE (HOBAN) BLAKE
Aileen Wuornos, the infamous Lesbian highway hooker-cum-serial killer, is the subject of first-time feature director Patty Jenkins' fascinating and truly auspicious debut docu-drama.
Wuornos' story has seduced writers from several disciplines. There have been at least two plays the 1992 "Lesbians Who Kill," and last year's "Self Defense" both of which dealt with the romantic and homicidal activities of a fictitious lesbian figure and her lover. Documentarian Nick Broomfield's obsession with the real death row inmate began with his 1991 "Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer."
|Written and directed by: Patty Jenkins.|
Cast: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Scott Wilson, Lee Tergesen, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Annie Corley, Marco St. John, Bubba Baker, Marc Macaulay, Brett Rice.
Cinematography: Steven Bernstein.
Related links: Official site
His second Wuornos doc, "Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer," will open nationwide on January 9 and Broomfield generously gave Jenkins and her producer/star Charlize Theron access to information and outtakes from both his works. "The way I look at it," the documentarian explained, "a good Hollywood movie about Aileen would be preferable to a bad one."
But "Monster," shot in a series of grungy Florida locations by a dedicated cast and crew on a mini-budget in a mere 29 days, is the antithesis of a Hollywood movie. And though well-deserved, it's a shame that all the buzz on "Monster" is bound to focus on the gorgeous Theron's phenomenal transformation into the blowsy Florida prostitute who, after 12 years on death row, died voluntarily by lethal injection a little over a year ago.|
It's certainly a performance to reckon with. The persona of the big-boned Aileen, with her limp blonde hair and mottled skin, fits Theron like some frightening Halloween costume. But don't let this bravura performance keep you from seeing what a brilliant writer-director Jenkins is. Mixing and matching indie elements from such shopworn concepts as coming-of-age, dysfunctional families and homophobia, she's come up with a terrifying variation on Thelma-and-Louise but with a lot more sex and murder.
In "Monster," Wuornos (who began hooking at age 13 to help out the family which naturally put her out when she became pregnant), constantly calls Selby "my baby." And Selby (who professes to be "grown up") reverts to infantilism with her paramour. The ever-shifting dynamic between the two is akin to watching the mating dance of two praying mantises but we're never sure who is going to devour whom.
While Theron definitely has the showier role, Christina Ricci reveals a heretofore-untapped depth and subtlety as Wuornos' unbalanced young lover Selby, who manipulates the older woman from the start. Was this the true relationship? Every work on the subject so far has pushed its own agenda and although Jenkins tries hard to be evenhanded, ultimately her film opts for a "Wuornos was a victim" scenario.|
The case was a cause celebre among death penalty opponents for 12 years, before her sudden declaration that she had indeed killed her seven victim/johns in cold blood, not in self-defense as she had previously stated. Florida Governor Jeb Bush quickly complied when she demanded to die immediately.
Broomfield's original doc shows Wuornos' "after-life" in prison (not dealt with in Jenkin's film) and his new doc will no doubt raise as many questions as it answers, but with Wuornos gone and her lover disappeared, the whole truth can never really be known. To approach "Monster" as a fictional work based on a true story is to find a satisfying and truly frightening portrait of not one, but two marginal "women in love."
A final word on the performances. It's a shame that Ricci's best work to date may not be recognized, but Golden Globe nominee Theron is a real Oscar contender and if the old Oscar adage about "taking off your makeup and/or playing crazy" holds, then Theron holds two trump cards in this Oscar race. And wouldn't that have made Wuornos herself laugh like crazy.
|DECEMBER 26, 2003|
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