The Films of Patty Jenkins
Monster (January 6/04)
Set in the late '80s, Monster follows Charlize Theron's Aileen Wuornos as she attempts to overcome an often excessively hardscrabble existence after befriending a shy lesbian named Selby Wall (Christina Ricci). Monster is extremely reminiscent of certain movies of the '70s (eg Five Easy Pieces and The Conversation), in that it's content to exist more as a character study than anything else. Which is fine, up to a point; as an examination of Wuornos and to a much lesser extent Selby, the film works. But like those much lauded movies of the '70s, unless you're willing to accept the non-existent pace and emphasis on human behavior, the film's not going to mean much. But then again, Theron's performance is compelling enough to ensure the movie remains entertaining. Though she's never really offered up any kind of indication that she was capable of this type of performance, Theron does a remarkable job of becoming a completely different person. Director Patty Jenkins (who also wrote the script) often goes a bit too far in asking us to feel sorry for this woman - she did murder several men in cold blood, after all - but Wuornos deserves some sympathy, as we learn about her horrific background. But the film never quite becomes as engrossing or electrifying as it clearly wants to be, primarily because Jenkins keeps the emphasis off Wuornos' dark side. The film deals mostly with her attempts to go straight and establish a new life with Wall, which is fairly intriguing - for a while, anyway. That Wall isn't developed to the extent that Wuornos is doesn't help, as the film spends a lot of time dealing with their relationship. The plotless nature of the movie eventually catches up to it, which leads to a film that isn't exactly compelling - though Theron's spellbinding performance ensures that it's always interesting.
Directed by Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman follows Gal Gadot's Diana Prince as she leaves her secluded homeland to take on the malevolent god Ares. There's certainly plenty within Wonder Woman to admire and enjoy - Gadot's star-making turn as the Amazonian princess is certainly an ongoing highlight - and yet the movie ultimately does suffer from many of the problems one has come to associate with contemporary comic-book adaptations. The most obvious issue here is an absurdly, needlessly overlong running time of 141 minutes (!), with the movie, as a result, saddled with a padded-out feel that prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the sloppy narrative. It's clear, too, that the script's origin-story-heavy atmosphere plays a significant role in the less-than-engrossing atmosphere, as screenwriter Allan Heinberg delivers a storyline that's rife with virtually all of the genre's conventions and tropes. (Did we, for example, need to spend this much time on Gadot's character's birthplace?) There is, as such, little doubt that much of Wonder Woman's opening hour seems like it could've been cut down to a brisk ten-minute prologue, and the film consequently doesn't begin to genuinely capture one's interest until Diana finds herself on the battlefields of World War I (ie it's here that the character finally goes full Wonder Woman, in a sequence that remains the movie's high-water mark). The movie is, past that point, littered with an almost equal number of effective and ineffective interludes, with, in terms of the latter, the picture climaxing with a typically loud and over-the-top final stretch that's almost uniformly uninvolving. (There is, at least, an unexpectedly touching moment of self-sacrifice that stands out amid the relentless barrage of special effects.) Wonder Woman does, in the end, fall right in line with such underwhelming DC cinematic universe titles as Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, with the movie's failure especially disappointing given the potential of the title character and the undeniable impact of Gadot's engaging, charismatic turn.