Friday, May 19, 2023

Can a trans woman go home again?


Trace Lysette, a trans actress, takes the lead in Monica, the story of a trans woman who's alienated from her family. The drama is set in motion when Monica is invited by her sister-in-law Laura (Emily Browning) to travel from LA to  Ohio to visit her dying mother (Patricia Clarkson). We assume that, at least on some level, Monica craves reconciliation and acceptance from the woman who kicked her out when she was still a kid. Lysette cloaks Monica's feelings behind defenses that presumably have been years in the making. It's a legitimate acting choice but one that makes the character less intriguing while adding to the frustration that can result from the insularity of director Andrea Pallaoro's approach. Early on Monica reveals a bit of desperation, making repeated calls to a boyfriend who recently dumped her. Late in the movie, she travels to a nearby town for a night of sexual escape. Mostly, she cares for her mother as she tries to adjust to staying in the house where she grew up. She never tells her mother who she is and Pallaoro maintains ambiguity about whether Clarkson's character ever recognizes Monica. Monica springs fully to life when she plays with her niece and nephew, but she seldom lowers her guard. Credit the supporting cast with nice work. Monica's sister-in-law (Browning) and her brother (Joshua Close) may not fully understand Monica but they try to be helpful. Pallaoro finds tender moments but too often, the movie fails to click, perhaps because Pallaoro's insistently muted style (he's not much interested in verbal confrontation) keeps Monica from fully plumbing the expected  emotional depths.

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