'Monster' of a Movie

Charlize Theron has never looked so bad and acted so well.

While I myself have never been a prostitute/serial killer in Northern Florida, it's easy to see how this would not be an easy life to lead. First off, Florida is loaded with prostitutes and serial killers, so the competition would be fierce. Secondly, all that whoring is tough on the back and immune system.

So the life of Aileen Wuornos, famed serial-killing prostitute, was no doubt not an easy one, and this showed on her face, which was sort of a combination of "sun-damaged" and just plain "damaged." All of which makes Charlize Theron one of the least likely actresses to play the part of Wuornos in the biopic Monster.

Theron, in case you've missed her many nipple-centric appearances on the Internet, is widely considered one of the most beautiful white women in the world. She's also about 40 pounds thinner than Wuornos was, and her face hardly looks like it's been hit with an ugly stick.

However, Theron is one of the producers of Monster, so who's gonna argue with her? But if I were casting this film, Theron would be just below Mandy Moore and Annette Funicello on the list of actresses I would have chosen for the lead.

Which would have been a terrible mistake on my part, because no matter how great Moore and Funicello are, Theron is way, way better. She's so spot-on awesome in this film that she actually makes you root for Wuornos as she guns down sleazy johns and steals their Impalas.

Theron packed on a lot of weight, put in a hideous dental implant and was subjected to the cruelest hairstyle ever seen in order to ugly up for the role. Of course, all that would just make her into an Aileen Wuornos Muppet if it weren't for the performance, which, while bizarrely mannered, is nonetheless completely immersive.

The film opens with Wuornos sitting under a bridge planning to kill herself. However, realizing she still has $5 left in her pocket, she instead goes to a nearby bar to get a beer.

It turns out that this is a gay bar and, while there, Wuornos meets Selby (Christina Ricci). After a short courtship interrupted by Wuornos' homophobia and her tendency to stop off and kill a john or two, she and Selby fall in love and move in together.

So this is really a story about the redemptive power of love, which transforms Wuornos from a down-and-out streetwalker into a mass murderer. Frank Capra, eat your heart out!

This heartwarming tale of same-sex cuddling and inter-gender murder is enhanced by strong performances from just about everyone in the cast. Of note is Christina Ricci, who's been getting undeserved critical acclaim for some time now, but who finally seems to have grown into her hype.

Ricci's Selby has an innocence and insouciance that makes her as lovable as a busty lesbian teddy bear, and every bit as evil. She can't see the horrors that Wuornos subjects herself to in order to buy food and pay the rent, but she's more than happy to profit from them.

This creates a bit of tension between the two as Wuornos is forced to go out performing unspeakable acts for cash while Selby stays home to catch up on Oprah. Ultimately, it becomes clear that this love is doomed, but not before Wuornos tosses some lead at the sleazy men who dare to pay for her services.

It's actually viscerally satisfying to watch her kill some of these johns. I realize that paying for sex is not a capital offense, but, when not performed in a state-sanctioned marriage, it is against the law, so who's gonna complain if Wuornos cleans up the streets a little?

Unfortunately, killing johns is a lot like eating potato chips, and Wuornos can't stop at just one. Pretty soon, she's making up excuses to continue her spree, and she even starts to kill people who aren't so wretched as to demand sex for money. Strangely, this leads her into trouble with the law, and things spiral down from there, but Wuornos never gives up on love, even as she's being dragged off to be executed.

The performances are helped along by a beautiful script which contains such good advice as, "We can be as different as we want to be, but you can't kill people," and strong observations like, "If having a bad childhood is an excuse, then we'd all be hookers and druggies because somebody yelled at us." Writer/director Patty Jenkins is essentially a newcomer, having done a couple of small indie films before this, but I imagine that, based on this film, she'll be something of a hot property in the future.

What she captures, more than anything, though, is Wuornos' inner life. Without falling back on clichés of abuse and power, and without making Wuornos either sappy or simple, Jenkins and Theron create a character who seems tremendously real, and whose motivations make sense. Monster is a tremendously sad film, and I think that it would not make a great date movie, nor would it be a good film to take the whole family to, unless the family is reasonably sophisticated and older than the age of consent. However, Monster is probably the best-constructed and best-acted character study of the last 10 years, and, in a world where zombies run the government and actual character seems to have vanished into myth and legend, that in itself may make Monster a socially redeeming event.

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