Oscar: Best Actress–Theron, Charlize in Monster (2003)

Charlize Theron won the  Best Actress Oscar for the 2003 indie “Monster,”  a fictionalized version of  lesbian serial killer Aileen Wuornos.  It was her first nomination.

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 classic 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.