“Monica” – Schmonica [MOVIE REVIEW]

Trace Lysette as Monica, Patricia Clarkson as Eugenia and the family. Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

Trace Lysette as Monica. Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

There’s no way around it. This is an excruciatingly long movie on a topic that could have been interesting had it been presented less portentously. 

The camera opens on a close-up of Monica’s beautiful face, all perfect angles and lush lips. The next shot reveals her to be a gorgeous redhead climbing into a convertible, attracting the attention and wolf calls of an unseen man. Sitting quietly in her car, she is constantly making phone calls that land on voice mail, each one increasingly more desperate. She is needy, unhappy and lost. Every shot is long and every one of them is on her. There is an innocent seediness to her living situation. What does she do?  The hints are there. But like everything else in the film, it is left unspoken.

Packing up, she gets in her car for what will be a long drive. Arriving at a middle class suburban home, lacking only a picket fence, we discover that she has been summoned by her sister-in-law, Laura. Locating her, as Laura explains, was very difficult but she was determined. Monica follows Laura to the home of a dying woman, Eugenia, the mother who abandoned her long ago. But will Eugenia recognize Monica as her long absent child? Why not? What happened?

If the movie didn’t take so long to get there, you’d understand, have a certain amount of sympathy (maybe) and recognize that life doesn’t always work out the way you think it will. 

Patricia Clarkson as Eugenia. Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

Allegedly about abandonment, reconciliation, forgiveness and tolerance, by the time this film is finished you will yourself feel abandoned to directorial excess and have an almost complete lack of forgiveness and tolerance, let alone reconciliation. 

What a shame to waste such an opportunity. The story of Monica, in different hands, might have been enlightening. Spoiler alert. Monica is transgender. Writer/director Andrea Pallaoro was so entranced with Trace Lysette’s (Monica) beauty and bearing that he forgot that he had a story to tell. The point isn’t that Monica is a beautiful woman but that she is lost because she has yet to reconcile who she sacrificed to become with what came before. She has been rejected so often that it is what she expects. What a shame to make Trace Lysette’s star turn become what seems like endless shots of grave silence. Patricia Clarkson as Eugenia fares little better as the dying mother. She, too, is graced (or perhaps it’s damned) with long silences and endless closeups.

The photographic palette is overly dark, with little nuance. Monica’s costumes were designed to show off her feminine curves and they do their job. 

I really wish I had something more positive to say about a film that wasted my time and threw away an important message about acceptance because the writer/director thought that the less said the more powerful it would be. No. The only moment of possibility was when Monica gave her androgynous nephew, who might have started out as her niece, a talisman that she held dear. The token, she explained, helped her believe in herself when no one else did. 

With this train wreck, there’s nothing to see folks, so move along.

Opening May 8 at the Royal and May 19 at the Monica Film Center.


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