Some thoughts about Monster, the based-on-a-true-story in which Charlize Theron plays Aileen Wuornos, the so-called “first American female serial killer.” This post is about the movie; everything I know about the real person I learned from Riot Grrrl zines, so this post is not about her.
Everyone talks about how Theron gained weight and wore fake teeth for this movie. But what struck me was the way she moved. Her turned-down smile and her itchy, cadging, jockeying movements reminded me so much of a hard-luck case I’ve known for several years, a sometime prostitute whose speech and movement patterns are really similar to Theron’s here. She’s posturing and cajoling, sometimes openly manipulative and sometimes just achingly needy.
Christina Ricci, as Wuornos’s lover Shelby (sort of based on someone with a different name), is a flatter character. She’s a huge-eyed audience identification character, which: I was a teen lesbian in the 1990s, so Christina Ricci as self-insert isn’t too tough for me. Her vocal inflections and movements also seem totally real, totally a persona I’ve seen before. The Netflix sleeve describes the character as “selfish” but she’s really more callow and needy, and then trapped.
I’m surprised that this movie doesn’t get talked about more as a specifically lesbian movie, since it seems like the filmmakers made several choices which place it in that genre. (The most obvious one for me was the use of “Crimson and Clover.” Perfect and heartbreaking.) Ricci also plays miserable puppy love so, so well. You’re really able to see Aileen’s beauty through her character’s eyes, even as you know that Shelby is cruelly naive about prostitution and about Aileen’s life generally.
This is a brutally sad movie. Yes, the incidental music can get somewhat melodramatic. And you could argue that the dramatic-irony voiceover does too, but the story is just so painful that I can accept the director rubbing our noses in it a little.