Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 20 News List

A taste of American pie that leaves a bitter taste

'Monster' is based on the true story of a woman who killed six men and was then executed for her crimes

By Stephen Holden  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Crime doesn't pay, Theron's character finds out.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TAIONE NETWORK

The emotional intensity of her unforgettable performance recalls Hilary Swank's Oscar-winning turn in Boys Don't Cry, a bleak slice of American life that leaves the same bitter aftertaste as Monster.

With crooked yellowed teeth that jut from a mouth that spews profanity in a surly staccato, a freckled weather-beaten face and a prizefighter's swagger, Charlize Theron pulls off the year's most astounding screen makeover in Patty Jenkins's film Monster. At the very least the disappearance of the cool and creamy blond star into the body of a ruddy, bedraggled street person is an astounding cosmetic stunt.

But Theron's transformation, supervised by the makeup wizard Toni G, is not just a matter of surfaces. As Aileen Wuornos, the notorious Florida murderer whose career in homicide was sensationalized when the press inaccurately called her the first female serial killer, she uncovers the lost, love-starved child cowering under the killer's hard shell.

Wuornos, who confessed to murdering six men in the late 1980s and early 1990s, died in the electric chair on Oct. 9, 2002, after spending more than a decade on death row. The movie, which focuses on her desperate, last-ditch relationship with Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), the lesbian lover who ended up testifying against her, is sporadically narrated by Wuornos.

Its fatalistic mood is set in an opening monologue in which she recalls a miserable childhood whose emptiness she filled with cheap fantasies of stardom and true love. Her naive faith in the existence of a rescuing Prince Charming led Wuornos to begin turning tricks at 13.

By the time the movie begins, Wuornos has plied her trade for years as a hitchhiking low-rent prostitute working the highways of central Florida. Her hopes have dried up. Down to her last five dollars and contemplating suicide, she drops into a saloon (that happens to be a lesbian bar) for one last drink, and meets Selby. After an edgy initial conversation Wuornos, who has never had sex with a woman, ends up spending the night with her.

Film Notes:

Monster

Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Starring: Charlize Theron (Aileen), Christina Ricci (Selby), Bruce Dern (Thomas Lee), Taylor Vince (Gene/Stuttering "John"), Marc Macaulay(Will/Daddy, Kaitlin Riley (Teenage Aileen), Cree Ivey (Seven-Year-Old Aileen)

Running time: 109 minutes

Taiwan Release: Today


Because it is her first relationship in years to provide a semblance of affection, she grabs on to Selby and hangs on ferociously.

The film is so determined not to sentimentalize the affair that it is shown as a sad case study of dysfunction and desperate co-dependence. Its ultimate aridity parallels the impersonal semi-urban wasteland of central Florida with its strip malls, seedy bars and gas stations.

Selby, who has been shipped from Ohio to Florida by religious parents who can't deal with her sexuality, is an emotional basket case with a streak of timid rebellion. Once their affair is under way, Wuornos takes the reins and plays the role of a blustering, pseudomacho breadwinner and promises her sullen, needy partner the moon and stars.

Determined to give up prostitution and get a respectable job, Wuornos, pumped full of unrealistic expectations but lacking a

marketable skill, endures a series of humiliating job interviews that are made all the worse by her own grating refusal to accept rejection. The movie's most painful scenes illustrate the chasm between the smug workaday world and the demimonde of unsocialized outsiders who are clueless about the job market.

The movie's biggest disappointment is the vague, unfocused performance of Ricci, an actress known for taking risky, unsympathetic roles. Here she seems somewhat intimidated by her character. Although Jenkins' screenplay gives her the seeds to create a complex portrait, Ricci resists plumbing Selby's selfish, shallow exterior to discover her humanity.

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