The Reel Review
A transgender woman must confront past trauma when she returns home to take care of her dying mother – her first visit home since her mother rejected her and kicked her out as a teenager 20 years ago. Trace Lysette (Transparent, Hustlers) and Patricia Clarkson star in this intimate LGBTQ+ character portrait.
Monica tackles a lot of subjects – among them: rejection, abandonment and forgiveness – but it does so in a remarkably quiet, understated way. There are no big emotional moments – just a lot of tender ones. Ironically, the brain tumor which is killing Monica’s mother also has erased her memory of Monica, which intensifies Monica’s internal conflict about returning home to get closure. Over the course of the film, we learn why.
Co-writer/director Andrea Pallaoro (Hanna, Medeas) tends to linger a bit too long on his many arthouse shots, which while lyrical and poetic, do slow the slice-of-life narrative to a crawl at times and diminish the story’s impact. But Lysette’s magnetic performance as an individual attempting to reconnect with her family after many years of isolation will resonate with anyone who has experienced estrangement from family members. That, alongside solid portraits from Clarkson as her mother, and Adriana Barraza (Blue Beetle, Dora at the Lost City of Gold, Thor) as the hospice nurse who befriends Monica, makes this a haunting and touching film.
• Trace Lysette’s role in Monica made her the first transgender woman to headline a film at the Venice Film Festival, the world’s oldest running film festival.
• Emily Browning ended up playing Monica’s sister-in-law Laura when Anna Paquin (True Blood, The Piano) had to drop from the film.
• Monica was filmed in and around Cincinnati, Ohio.