Monster (2003): Charlize Theron’s Oscar Role

As written and directed by Patty Jenkins, “Monster,” her feature debut, is almost a one-woman show, allowing its star, the usually glamorous Charlize Theron, to undergo a complete physical and psychological transformation as the serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

Indeed, “Monster” is a star vehicle par excellence, except that it’s a small-budget, modest indie.   Shockingly deglamorized and barely recognizable, Theron wears fake teeth and carries extra weight of at least 30 pounds; she worked with the terrific makeup man, Toni G.   It’s hard to think of such act of disguise and transformation since De Niro gained 60 pounds to portray Jake La Motta in Scorsese’s biopic, “Raging Bull,” for which he won the 1980 Bets Actor Oscar.
This career-making performance, which deservedly won Theron kudos, including the Best Actress Oscar dominates every frame of the otherwise shallow and episodic film about the notorious serial killer, who worked as a prostitute and had a long lesbian affair with a woman (Christina Ricci), who finally betrayed her.
One can only speculate on Jenkins’ motivation in making this film for she’s stepping into a territory that had already been covered. Placed against several good documentaries about Wuornos by Nick Broomfield, “Monster” comes across as a disappointing feature that lacks a discernible point of view and is vastly underpopulated in terms of characters.
At a local bar, she meets Selby (Ricci) a working class girl whose father had sent her to Florida to live with her aunt, a punishment for getting caught in kissing another girl. Falling hard for Selby, Aileen become protective of Selby, who’s younger (really childish), immature, needier, and extremely vulnerable than her.
Broomfield first docu about the subject was shown at the Sundance Film Fest in 1993. Then, just before she was executed in Florida (in October 2002), Broomfield was able to interview the serial killer, a footage that he put in “Aileen: Life and Death of a serial Killer,” which was released theatrically at the same time that “Monster” was. The evidence provided by Wuornos in the two documentaries is contradictory. In the second, she negates her testimony at the 1992 trial, and says that she killed the seven men not out of self-defense but in order to rob them.
Jenkins portrays Wuronos as a victim of tragic, abused childhood, a severely damaged, foul-mouthed slattern, determined to survive as an aggressive hustler on the road. To her credit, the helmer does not try to “humanize” Wuronos too much by softening her crimes
In moments, “Monster” feels like a film noir of amour fou, depicting love on the run by a couple of lesbians. Some of the most touching moments depict the asymmetric relationship between the two femmes. Unfortunately, Jenkins’ background in commercial and music video is most evident here for she can’t build dramatic momentum and stage powerful scenes, despite the potential strength of her material.

Detailed Plot

After moving to Florida, Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute, meets Selby Wall (based on Wuornos’ real life lover Tyria Moore) in a bar.  Selby likes Aileen’s strength and protectiveness, though claims she is not a lesbian. Even so, the couple go to the house where Selby is staying (temporarily exiled by her parents after being accused by another girl for kissing her).

Aileen is raped and brutalized by a client named Vincent Corey, and she kills him in self-defense. She confesses her action to Selby, and tries to find legitimate work, but, due to lack of qualifications and past, employers reject her, and are occasionally openly hostile to her. Desperate for money, she returns to her career as a prostitute. She continues to commit several acts of murder, each client killed in a more brutal way. She spares one man out of pity, when the man admits he has never had sex with a prostitute, but ultimately kills another man who, instead of exploiting her, offers help.

Aileen uses the money she steals from her victims to indulge herself and Selby. However, as Selby reads in the papers about the string of murders and begins to suspect that her girlfriend may have committed them, the two have a falling out and Selby returns to Ohio.  Aileen is eventually arrested at a biker bar and speaks to Selby one last time while in jail. Selby reveals some incriminating information over the telephone. To protect her lover, Aileen admits she committed the murders alone. During Aileen’s trial, Selby testifies against her, and Aileen is sentenced to death.

Cast

Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos.

Christina Ricci as Selby Wall.

Bruce Dern as Thomas.

Lee Tergesen as Vincent Corey

Annie Corley as Donna

Pruitt Taylor Vince as Gene /Stuttering “John”

Marco St. John as Evan /Undercover “John”

Marc Macaulay as Will / Daddy “John”

Scott Wilson as Horton / Last “John”

Kane Hodder as Undercover cop

Brett Rice as Charles

 

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