Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Cattrall Watch: Meet Monica Velour (2010)

Watched:  03/08/2021
Format:  Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010's
Director:  Keith Bearden

I'm not really sure what qualifies as an indie film in this day and age, or even what constituted an indie movie in 2010 when Meet Monica Velour was released.  But it had been a while since I'd watched a lower-budget film like this one - and it almost hums with "this is an indie film" in a way the big studio releases I've been watching simply do not.  

The movie pitches itself as a "career high performance" for Kim Cattrall, and I'll argue - maybe!  I have only seen a fraction of her catalog, but she is, indeed, very, very good in this movie.  I totally get why she jumped at the chance to play this character, especially when the general TV and movie audience was associating her with her character on Sex and the City.  And, frankly, she nails it.  

A lot of the rest of the movie feels like familiar territory, even as it's trying to lay claim to indie-film realness.  It wants to break away from the pitch, that sounds like a teen sex comedy set-up and "say something", but it kind of trips over itself in doing so and in a lot of ways winds up exactly as that.  It wants to maybe say something about a young man's weird week in Indiana that led him to grow up a bit, and two lost souls help each other out.  But it's not clear that's actually what happens.  Also - lots of homophobic jokes, some standard-issue bullies, and miles of those "wow, what an awkward nerd!" scenes that folks have really doubled down on as inherently humorous (YMMV).

Our basic set-up: a 17-year-old nerd, no friends and who lives with his grandpa (Brian Dennehy, having a grand time as an old man who has no fucks left to give), is a collector who obsesses over a few things, especially vintage porn.  And he's especially enamored of the work of late 70's porn star Monica Velour.  He has tapes of her films, posters, photos, magazines, the whole nine yards.  

Life and fortune combine as he gets an opportunity to sell the family foodtruck (The Weenie Wiz? Wiz Weenie?) to a man (Keith David!) who happens to live in a small town in Indiana where Monica Velour is currently headlining at a strip club.  

Cattrall's Monica Velour is a trainwreck, but our nerd doesn't see it.  Her porn years are behind her, leaving her in dire straits - unhirable as everyone in the small town knows who she is, clearly with some dependency issues, an abusive ex husband (Sam McMurray), and a daughter she can't see.  But at the core, she has no life skills nor coping skills.

Our high schooler, Tobe, is smitten - and Monica, 30-odd years his senior, has no idea what to do with him.  He's dredging up a lot just by showing up, but he's also respectful - even as he has laughably unreal expectations about what is happening.  But, a sort of friendship does blossom.

Cattrall manages to convey a nuance that could have been a broad, slapsticky sort of role and instead makes Monica very deeply human.  She's damaged goods that knows it, and knows it's just going to keep getting worse.  But isn't this kid sweet, even if he has some fucked up ideas?

Look, there's a lot of details about the film that just don't really add up and would have made infinitely more sense if Tobe was, say, 26.  The movie makes it clear the kid has no money, so how he's built a collection like he has in just a few years (I'm assuming since he was 14) is... confusing.  And why he'd focus on a vintage porn star is never really delved into. 

More than that - it's hard to ignore how much Tobe echoes Napolean Dynamite as a character, from being a geeky, spaced out kid who lives with a checked out grandparent to spending his time looking for deals purchasing the cast-offs of others. 

At the end of the day, the coming-of-age story doesn't particularly work.  There's not a straight line from his experience with Monica to his telegraphed connection with the neighbor girl at the end.  If *anything* the movie seems to be an introduction to the "let's get real" lesson young people learn that, unfortuntaley, some people you instinctually want to help are not going to play ball.  And even *that* lesson gets dropped in a coda to the story.  

Meanwhile, Cattrall is funny and sad and infuriating and sympathetic in a single character she elevates above the material.  She's not in some other movie, but she's by far the best part of this movie.  Frankly, the movie doesn't have enough Monica, and - like a lot of film - focuses instead on the young white male - setting up the woman to just be a stepping stone for him on his road to maturity.  And I'm not sure the movie is inward looking enough to grapple with the exploitation inherent there, even if Cattrall's Monica would have seen it and shrugged it off.  

It's in no way a *bad* movie, and I'm almost curious to secure a copy of the bluray which has commentary by both the director and Cattrall, and if the commentary isn't all "oh, this location was interesting" but actually gets into what the director was making and why (he wrote the film, too), I'm kind of curious what made him want to tell *this* story when there's a more interesting story right there.

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