Monica (2023) Film Review B

Italian-born director Andrea Pallaoro’s “Monica” follows in the footsteps of his previous offerings “Medeas” and “Hannah” in its smooth, hypnotic style.

We first encounter our titular heroin (Trace Lysette), appropriately enough, in Santa Monica, where, returning to her car from a spa treatment, she has to endure a suggestive come-on from a stranger – “Hot Girl, Hot Car.” We realize that Monica, a trans woman, has had to take this type of attention from the moment she decided to make the transition. We also sense from the pathetic and denigrating phone calls she makes to an unseen boyfriend and from her work as a masseuse, which bores her – there may or may not be sex involved – that life in LA is going nowhere fast. So, when she gets a surprise call from her sister-in-law Laura (Emily Browning in a lovely, understated performance) to return home to the Midwest because her mom is dying, we feel that this could be Monica’s salvation. Not so fast!


It transpires that ten years previously, Monica’s mother Eugenia (Patricia Clarkson) did the unforgivable when she took her effeminate teenage boy and dropped him off at a bus bound for LA, saying she could no longer live with him. Dying now from a brain tumor, Eugenia seems to have no memory of this event, and whether she remembers “Monica” at all is never revealed. However, there is SOMETHING between the two women, and Monica, pretending to be help from the local hospice, gradually becomes closer to her mother. After she is stood up on an online date and then has anonymous sex with a passing truck driver, Monica returns home and cradles her mother in bed, the camera all the while being focused on Clarkson’s expressive eyes. Out of many beautiful scenes in this almost wordless movie, it’s lovely. There is also an excellent performance by Joshua Close, who plays Paul, Monica’s brother and Laura’s husband. Paul is grappling with a failing marriage, and the last time he saw Monica, she was his sweet, sensitive younger brother.

Pallaora is blessed with two actresses who can convey oceans of emotion with their closeups, and Lysette, a real-life trans actress in almost every scene, is lovely. There is a collateral, if somewhat obvious, storyline suggesting that Monica’s sensitive nephew may be on the same path as his aunt, only now with Monica’s support and the support of his family. Some things do get better with time.

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