Aileen “Lee” Wuornos was not the first female serial killer, nor was she the most prolific or brutal, but her case was one of the most sensational in recent memory. Wuornos, a Troy native, grew up in a hellish, abusive environment and was pregnant by age 14. After drifting to Florida in the early 1980s, she landed in and out of trouble with the law, while making ends meet by hooking on the interstate. Her only refuge may have been her longtime lesbian lover. In 1989, Wuornos committed her first murder, against an allegedly abusive john. She would shoot and kill six more men before she was caught in 1992. She was executed by lethal injection in 2002.
Writer and director Patty Jenkins does a masterful job of bringing a portion of Wuornos’ sad tale to life in Monster. However, there’s no doubt that the real star here is Charlize Theron, an impossibly gorgeous Hollywood starlet who fattens and uglies herself to play the homely Wuornos. The frumping-up of beautiful movie star is a recent trend, one that often backfires with the audience ignoring the actress’ performance and instead obsessing over the “uglification” — witness Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich.
Theron, on the other hand, submits the most riveting performance of her career. She wears prosthetic teeth, a splotchy complexion, and tattered acid washed jeans, but the physical props take a backseat to her truly gripping portrayal of a tortured woman gone over the edge. In fact, her acting is so compelling it blows everyone else out of the water, including co-star Christina Ricci, who plays Wuornos’ lover. Ricci puts in a solid performance, but simply can’t hold a candle to Theron’s powerhouse showing.
Jenkins tells only a portion of Wuornos’ story, concentrating primarily on her murdering spree. Little by little, the film releases snippets of Wuornos’ nightmarish childhood, and at first, it’s easy to feel sorry for her. Suicidal, used up, and wholly pathetic, a desperate Wuornos tries to clean up her life, stop hooking and get a real job; prospective employers practically laugh in her face.
The story tapers off after Wuornos’ capture, and little is made of her trial and eventual death. After a riveting hour and a half, it feels as though the film sputters to a tepid ending unworthy of the previously outstanding script, direction and acting.
All that aside, Monster is a phenomenal film, one that deserves several Oscar nods, but so disturbing, I doubt I’d ever want to see it again.
Showing at the Main Art Theatre, 118 North Main Street, Royal Oak, (248) 263-2111.
Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at [email protected].