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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Monica ****

Starring: Trace Lysette, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Browning, Adriana Barraza

Director: Andrea Pallaoro

Country: USA

UK Release: 606 Distribution

Monica (Lysette - Hustlers, Transparent) has been estranged from her family for many years. When her sister-in-law (Browning - Suckerpunch) informs her that her mother (Clarkson - Far From Heaven, She Said) is dying, she returns to the family home for the first time since her transition. But even though the rest of the household knows who she is, she cannot bring herself to reveal her true identity to her mother, instead staying in the house as a live-in carer, waiting for the right moment to reveal her truth.

A nuanced character portrait, this is a moving depiction of navigating trans identity in the context of a small-town family. Even though Monica has moved away and created her own life, she is drawn back to her roots, yearning to live the authentic life that had to keep from her family for so long. Trace Lysette is resplendent in the role; warm, poised but maudlin, she is effortlessly beautiful and utterly compelling. This is a rare gem of a part; a trans role stunningly played by a trans actress.

A family drama at its core, it also dips its toes into other trans issues, exploring the pitfalls of dating as well as bodily objectification. Focused on authenticity, it never places the trans narrative as the drama itself, even if this sits at its heart. Laced with the weight of decades of back-story, this is rich with subtext and social niceties of the unsaid. Though the film does come good on its dramatic potential, this is as far from sensationalist as it’s possible to be, sitting somewhere between hyper-realism and mumblecore.

It may not be the snappiest film in the world, but what it lacks in haste it makes up for in characterisation. And though we spend a good portion watching the family simply function by itself, Lysette’s performance has anchored this film with a giant beating heart.

UK Release: Out now on VOD, released 606 Distribution


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