Judge Gordon Sullivan wanted to run a hot dog cart when he was seventeen.
Our review of Meet Monica Velour (Blu-ray), published August 22nd, 2011, is also available.
Fantasy Meets Reality
In times and places of scarce resources, adolescence is a luxury. When land must be tilled to put food on the table and children are born to thirteen-year-olds because of high infant mortality, the idea of a period of self-discovery between childhood and adulthood where young people get to learn and grow with few responsibilities seems absurd. Of course adolescence isn't just absurd to those who grow up in difficult conditions. Even American audiences, who by and large grow up with enough surpluses to enjoy adolescence, are aware that the time between puberty and adulthood is weird. Comedy after comedy has hammered this idea into our brains, and Meet Monica Velour can be added to the list. It's a heartstring tugging take on innocence, experience, and what it means to grow up. Sadly, some excellent performances can't overcome the general tedium of the film's timeworn premise.
Facts of the Case
Tobe (Dustin Ingram, Sky High) is a seventeen-year-old who lives with his grandfather and works in a hot dog wagon. He's also socially awkward and obsessed with the finer things in life, like the work of Seventies porn starlet Monica Velour (Kim Cattrall, Sex and the City). When he graduates from high school, he's given the hot dog wagon by his grandfather (Brian Dennehy, F/X). Instead of turning it into a business, Tobe decides to sell it, but the only offer he gets is from artist Claude (Keith David, Requiem for a Dream). When Tobe discovers that Monica Velour will be making a rare public appearance not far from Claude's studio, Tobe is eager to drive towards his dreams. Once he arrives, he becomes entangled with Monica, an aging stripper with custody issues and alcohol problems.
Meet Monica Velour has some pretty serious problems, but this merits saying: Kim Cattrall is amazing in this film. If the film were of a different genre (i.e., not an adolescent comedy), she'd be looking at a nomination for a little gold statue (like Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler). Because this is a sappy comedy, Cattrall is unlikely to get serious recognition for this flick, but she deserves it. In fact, she's pretty much the reason this film exists. Cattrall is most famous for playing the sex-obsessed Samantha on Sex and the City, and she also co-authored a book on finding sexual satisfaction. In Meet Monica Velour she puts a pin straight to her sex-goddess image, deflating it completely. From her extra weight and lack of makeup to her downcast eyes and defeated body language, Cattrall takes her sex-kitten persona and shows what decades of hard living can do to a centerfold. Adjectives like "brave" and "bold" sound natural when describing performances like these, and Cattrall earns her kudos honestly here.
Keith David gets a lot less screen time than Kim Cattrall, but it's nice to see him play something other than the heavy. Sure he's relegated to the role of the "magical Negro" who leads our white hero on his journey of self-discovery, but it's nice to see him in a comic role where he doesn't have to be scary at all. In fact, I'd like to see a whole movie about his character, a black artist living in rural Indiana after surviving the art world. Maybe Meet Claude would be a great sequel.
This DVD of Meet Monica Velour isn't bad either. The anamorphic transfer does a fine job with detail and color saturation, with no serious compression artifacts in sight. Black levels are consistent, and the generally muted landscape of the film has an appealing quality. The 5.1 surround track does a fine job with dialogue, and offers more clarity than the 1930s music can take advantage of, though the surrounds don't get much use. The extras start with an 8-minute reel of deleted scenes (including some extra nudity from the actress playing the young Monica) and the film's trailer. The centerpiece, though, is the commentary track from writer/director Keith Bearden and Kim Cattrall. The pair is obviously proud of their achievement (and Kim has reason to be), while their track shares a number of behind the scenes tidbits (including the fact that the hot dog wagon was stolen after filming) and real-life inspirations for the character of Monica. It's a lot more entertaining than the movie, truth be told, and only confirms Cattrall's hard work on the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If only all this stuff were in service of a better film. The problem with Meet Monica Velour is that it can't decide what it wants to be. On the one hand, it's a coming-of-age comedy that wants to watch an awkward teen take a heartwarming stab at growing up. On the other, it's a film about an aging porn star/stripper trying to make ends meet. The film could go the hardboiled route (like the previously mentioned Wrestler) and paint a dark, dramatic portrait of a fallen woman. Or, the film could take the light road to be a bit silly and show the hilarious hijinks of a man in love with the idea of a porn star. Heck, the film could even be a pitch-black comedy and show more of the dark side of the porn biz. Instead, Meet Monica Velour opts for none and all of these paths at the same time. The result is a film that starts out as adolescent black comedy, gets kinda darkly dramatic and heavy in the middle, but emerges unscathed in an unlikely "heartwarming" ending that feels even more juvenile than its protagonists. We learn nothing of substance about Tobe or Monica beyond the platitudes of "growing up is difficult but important."
Finally, I don't want to rag on Dustin Ingram too bad (since it's probably not his fault), but Tobe is trying way too hard to be a reject from a Napoleon Dynamite party. From the bushy hair to the awkward demeanor, everything screams "Jon Heder is too old for this role so we got this guy." Again, I don't want to blame Ingram, who does fine in the role, but the whole concept of this kid just feels way too precious and undercooked to be worthwhile.
Meet Monica Velour features a fearless performance from Kim Cattrall that's wasted on a film that's too precious for its own good. The flick is worth watching for Cattrall, but it's hard to recommend it for anything more than a rental.
Kim Cattrall is free to go, but Meet Monica Velour is guilty.
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