A Monster of a movie

Jan. 14, 2004, midnight | By Olivia Bevacqua | 17 years ago

Theron dazzles as convicted prostitute

Her skin is freckled and sun-damaged, sagging under eyes that are heavy-lidded from sleepless nights. She shovels food into her mouth like an animal and punctuates her sentences with colorful profanity. When she smiles, her teeth are yellow and horse-like. No one would guess they are looking at one of the most beautiful faces in showbiz.

Charlize Theron's appearance is a highlight of Monster, Patty Jenkins' striking directorial debut about the life of Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who was executed in 2002 for the murder of six men. Monster is a gritty piece that deserves high praise for the staggering transformation of Theron as well as outstanding acting and its introspective look at the societal roles of prostitutes and middle-class women. Though impressive, the film does leaves you feeling depressed and desperately in need of a good laugh.

Aileen (Theron) leads a life so abysmal that it is no wonder she winds up as the coarse, trash-talking individual to whom the film's title refers. As a child she is repeatedly raped by her father's friend and later kicked onto the streets by her family; she is a prostitute by age 13. When the movie opens, she is homeless and friendless, having survived without human affection for nearly her entire life. This changes when she meets Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), a young woman who has been sent to live with relatives in hopes that she will forsake her homosexuality. The two fall in love, and Selby leaves to live with Aileen a nebulous existence of hotel rooms, bars and sex.

One night on the job, Aileen is seriously beaten and raped by a john; she shoots and kills him in self-defense. This initiates a pattern of murders that eventually leads to her downfall.

The incredible portrayal of Aileen is due only partially to make-up artist Toni G.'s phenomenal work. Theron is just as amazing in her thorough depiction of the ill-fated prostitute. Every last mannerism and facial expression belongs to someone who exists worlds apart from Stella Bridger, Theron's soft-spoken, feminine character of last summer's The Italian Job. Even the way she smiles is different from in any other Theron movie. The corners of her mouth continually turn down unattractively, and she often shifts from foot to foot or shakes nervously under the eyes of a stranger. It seems Theron has created someone entirely new out of thin air.

Also commendable is the fact that Monster brings to light the exploitation of prostitutes—not only by the johns, but by the law enforcement system itself. The viewer sees how Aileen is at the mercy of policemen who beat her and force her to perform sexual acts.

Director/screenwriter Jenkins adds another dimension to the script by providing ironic moments that touch upon different aspects of society, particularly the role of women. In one scene, Selby's aunt is lecturing her niece on the sinfulness of homosexuality. "Someday you'll want a roof over your head, and you'll have to sleep with a man to get it," she snarls. She delivers this line just after condemning Aileen for being a lowlife prostitute.

Monster is a dark film that plunges into the jagged world of prostitution and homelessness, sharing the story of a woman who lived an extremely hard life. The movie is disturbing and heartrending, completely without the glossed-over feel of typical Hollywood cinema. Unfortunately, Monster does not send any particularly promising messages, and the viewer is left feeling both awed and nauseated.

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