Thursday, December 10, 2009

Monster Movies

Glenn here from Stale Popcorn here to discuss one of my favourite films from 2003, Patty Jenkins' Monster. Earlier this year when Courtney Hunt's Frozen River was released here in Australia I wrote in my review that
It's a shame that Courtney Hunt's Frozen River is so good. It's unfortunate because now I will most likely be incredibly disappointed when this debut director falls between the cracks of the lead performance she helped create.
I then went on to cite Boys Don't Cry's Kimberley Pierce (9 years between films) and Monster as examples.

Patty Jenkins has yet to make a second film after her Monster debut and there has never even been any word on her wanting to make another film. That is such a shame since she brought such fascinating sense of place to the Aileen Wuornos film and her twists on the idea of "American Gothic" - queering it up in a way - are endlessly interesting.

Of course, Charlize Theron was the reason people were going to see this movie and not for Jenkins' ruminations on shattered mid-American dreams and theories on gender/sexual politics. I can't say I disagree with them about Theron, she's simply amazing. My estimation of her performance has actually gone up since I first saw it (a time when I ranked it below Toni Collette, Uma Thurman and Jamie Lee Curtis... hmm, not so sure about that anymore). It's one of those monolithic performances akin to Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive, Tilda Swinton in Julia and Laura Dern in INLAND EMPIRE.

Many people don't care for - or outwardly hate - Christina Ricci in Monster, not me so much. I liked her naivety and the way that Ricci looks as if she can't hide her astonishment at what Charlize is doing directly opposite her. Plus that scene towards the end of the film over the telephone? Gets me every time.

Have you watched Monster again in the intervening years? If so... thoughts?


Rick said...

I loved the movie and I was truly disappointed that Ricci was overlooked in all the awards... she was as good as Theron in a much less showy fashion.

Kurtis O said...

I love this movie...such a strangely compelling and unfamiliar serial killer drama. I do believe Theron's is the decade's best performance. So stirring, so raw and a total surprise.

Danny King said...

I thought the performances, including Ricci, were the best part of this film. The story as a whole didn't feel as powerful to me as it should have, but I still got a lot out of the courageous performances.

Chris Na Taraja said...

I haven't seen this movie again. Although it was excellent, it was hard to watch the first time. And not in a fun SILENCE OF THE LAMBS way.

Julian Stark said...

I don't think that the film itself was all THAT great, but Theron was fantastic. And I'm utterly shocked that Miss Christina Ricci wasn't able to pick up some award kudos for her work.

Like I said, Monster wasn't great, but Theron was very good, making the film exponentially better (totally Oscar worthy btw)... however, the film wouldn't have worked without the right person to play the role of Selby either... Ricci was perfect in the role

vatz said...

Depressing film. I wanted to kill myself after the first 30 minutes and then I got sucked into its dark vortex. I'm glad I saw it, though. Theron was amazing. She just plain kicks ass. And if the cinema was still an arena where a few women could rule, I'm sure she would be one of them. I don't care what other people say, I quite enjoyed Christina Ricci and thought she deserved to be nominated as well.

Not sure if I could watch it again, though. That would be very punishing. I think I would have to go out dancing and drinking afterwards.


Hmmm. one of the interesting things about asking my blog buddies to comment on the years I've just revisited is interesting because I keep disagreeing with the posts ;)

I thought Ricci was terrible in Monster but it's a movie that fascinates enough people that I should probably give it a second chance. I will readily admit that Theron's work has grown in my estimation. I had her at #6 at the time... and I was just so weary of the deglam thing by that point, and the automatic kudos that come with it. (these default critical reactions for biopic and deglam amp up any natural contrarian feeling I may have and sometimes not to my own benefit)

I still am angry that the film was not nominated for makeup (an incredibly realistic and noteworthy achievement... but one that was credited to Charlize Theron in 75% of the reviews)

ANYWAY. My point is this: she was prety terrific in the film.

And Glenn is absolutely right about directors with impressive female driven debuts vanishing after they've helped their actress to Oscar glory.

so irritating.

Rebecca said...

I was traumatized by this movie the first time around, so I can't really revisit it anytime soon. I remember thinking Theron was great, and the relationship with Selby (Ricci) was just wonderfully done.

I feel like biopic performances like this, or Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry are pretty fundamentally different from performances of well-known public figures like Nelson Mandela, Amelia Earhart, Johnny Cash, or Ray Charles. Those performances (not equal in my mind) tend to depend on mimicry a lot more, since we have a real life figure to compare them to, plus the movies tend to follow the more well-worn biopic genre conventions - someone at the end of their life looking back, mythologizing the main character, horrible montages about getting famous, etc. I don't really even see Monster as a biopic, more a particularly harrowing look at one person's descent into severe mental illness/psychosis due to exposure to violence.

mrripley said...

I think theron gave ONE OF THE BEST ACTRESS perfmrances ever and the most deserved this lat 10 years I know her cpmpetition was weak in 03 but I think she would've won in any year but I also think ricci gives one of THE WORST SUPPORTING ACTRESS performances ever.


rebecca -- i agree about it not being a bio... i'm just saying. Those are the two types of performances that, as far as I can tell, prompt the two most immediate default reactions in critics.

that and middle aged white men having existential crises. They like those too :)

Dame Helen Mirren said...

nat when are you going to update your predictions?


this weekend -i'm basically drowning this week :(

Robert said...

Patty Jenkins did, however, go on to direct one of the best episodes of Arrested Development.

Dame Helen Mirren said...

Thank you Nathaniel, and don't forget to include me in the Best Actress contenders, and also "The Last Station" in picture, director, supporting actor, adapted screenplay, art direction, costumes and original score.

Urey said...

Charlize really was out of this world great in "Monster." I don't think she's ever going to top that performance, but then, why would she want to? Not a lot of places to go after you win the Oscar and every other film award under the sun for a performance. The rest of the film tried to live up to her performance but couldn't. Christina Ricci was outmatched left and right by her, and b/c of that, it wasn't easy for me to buy into that relationship too much. I could see Aileen preying on someone weak, but I wished that there was some redeeming quality about Ricci's character that would have made me believe that Aileen would risk everything to be with her. At it stood, that didn't really happen. But it's still more than worth watching in a Charlize show sort of way, and yes, Patty Jenkins really should do a follow-up to this film ASAP.

PPO-10 said...

It's so funny...I definitely did not think "Monster" was that great a film when I saw it in 2003. I thought Theron was very good, but even then I probably would have voted for Naomi Watts had I an Oscar ballot in my possession. I thought the directing and editing was pedestrian AT BEST.

And least twice in the last three years have I caught "Monster" on HBO or whatever a few minutes in, and each time I end up watching the whole thing, which is very a weird level of pull and, hmm, even comfort and familiarity for such a discomfiting film. I think this can be attributed to two reasons: (1) Theron was underrated by me then and is still underrated by many, despite the Oscar; it's such a natural, lived-in performance that it looks effortless, and if you aren't thinking about it, you might be mistaken into thinking that Theron's ease is half as impressive as, say, Watts's histrionics, when, of course, those ratios should clearly be reversed, and (2) the screenplay is just relentless in its inexorable fatalism, and is probably one of the most engrossing procedural films I've ever seen. You're just swept into it.

I still think Jenkins proves herself to be a fairly elementary director with regard to the cutting and the establishing shots, and I don't find the visual work particuarly impressive. I am not surprised she hasn't made a film since. But she clearly made quite a mark with this one, regardless of my minor quibbles.

As for Ricci, I don't find anything wrong with her performance; it was apt for her character. No Wednesday Addams brilliance, but what is, really.

AdamL said...

I thought Pierce's direction in Boys Don't Cry was adequate at best and awful at worst. Just about the only thing she got right was to elicit excellent performances from her cast, but really Swank's superior turn just about holds the whole thing together. It's a watchable film in spite of the director.

There's a strong parallel between that and Monster, which also had a very, very ordinary director at the helm. Monster is likewise a fairly poorly directed film that is held together by a strong female performance (although Theron is not in Swank's league.)

Frozen River is, to my mind, unquestionably the most accomplished directorial work of the three you mention and whilst I couldn't really care less if Pierce or Jenkins never make another film, it would be a shame if Hunt didn't.

Billy Held An Oscar said...

There are two Best Actress performances of the past decade that make me shake my head and cringe. The first being Reese Witherspoon and the other is Charlize Theron.

I am simply not a fan of this movie or Theron's performance. Something about it strikes me as hammy and sort of silly. As I sat and watched it in the theatre I remember being embarrassed for her. It struck me as total camp .. as if she was saying to the audience, "Look at me .. I am acting now."

I know I am in the minority on this one and that is cool. One blog even listed her performance as the #1 Best Actress Oscar performance of all time .... How I wish I could see what everyone else saw in this performance.

Wayne said...

@Nathaniel "I thought Ricci was terrible in Monster..." say whaaa... How so?

In her defense, Shelby does seem like she's supposed to be a mess of a character: sheltered, unsure of herself, weak-willed. There's a sense that she's really just a child in an adult's body. I thought Ricci did a fine job of bring this annoying character to life. Not Ricci's best this decade but remarkably subtle work, IMHO.

adam k. said...

I watched a few clips of this the other day and was reminded of the weirdly ambivalent but mostly negative reaction to it I had at the time.

Theron is very good... I'd nominate her but only after Thurman, Wood, and probably Jamie Lee Curtis. Theron and ScarJo (LiT) would fill out my ballot.

But man, the movie is just not good. I don't think Patty Jenkins is a talented director at all (not even in the same league as Kimberley Pierce... not at all). I couldn't get over the extreme indie cliché/movie of the week quality it had. I felt like it should be on lifetime. The "Aileen looks for work" montage was particularly painful. And yes, Ricci's character was SUPPOSED to be that annoying, but that doesn't make her any less annoying. I just couldn't bring myself to care about either of them, truth be told.

I will watch the whole thing again at some point, since a LOT of people I respect think it's great. But I don't see myself changing my mind on this one. Mediocre film. C+ at best.

But way more interesting than Something's Gotta Give, which was pure pandering. So I'm glad Diane Keaton didn't win.