February, 2004, Drama

This "star vehicle", (that has already earned its lead, Charlize Theron, a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination for best actress) presents a fictionalized version of  real-life mass murderer Aileen Wuornos, a Florida prostitute who killed the clients she serviced on Florida's stretch of Interstate 95 during the 1970's. Ms Theron, a stunning South African actress best known for eye-candy appearances, (Devil's Advocate, Cider House Rules, Men of Honor, The Italian Job) dons false teeth, lumpy clothes and 30 or so pounds to present a patently sympathetic portrait of a woman who reacts to a lifetime of abuse and rejection by robbing and eliminating the johns that helped finance her romance with Selby Wall, Wuornos' parasitic lover, played by Christina Ricci. Ms. Theorn, following in the footsteps of Tom Hanks, (Philadelphia) and Robert DiNiro, (Raging Bull) convincingly transforms herself physically-but unfortunately to little effect; as presented by director Patty Jenkins, the sad life of Ms. Wuornos just doesn't possess enough interest to justify the time and effort that went into telling her story. 

It's not that Theron doesn't give the role its due; her Wuornos emerges as an awkward girl, introduced to sex at far too early an age, who deals with her physical unattractiveness by retreating into a fantasy world of impossible aspirations that guarantee rejection from those whose company she nevertheless desperately seeks. In selling her body, she exacerbates the very self-loathing she's struggling to overcome. Theron conveys this pathetic mixture of aching loneliness and false bravado competently, but thus established, there's little left for the audience to do but bear witness to the brutality of her subsequent homicides.

Sensing this, the director introduces Selby Wall, a fawning younger girl who drifts into a relationship with Wuornos and stays around even when she becomes aware of what Wurnos is doing. As Ricci portrays her, Wall is a passive/aggressive Svengali, manipulating Wurnos with alternating doses of cloying affection and adolescent petulance when her demands aren’t met. Jenkins thus makes Wall complicit in her partner's crimes, providing the audience with a rationale for Wuornos' behavior designed to present her in a more sympathetic light. Whether or not the facts validate this interpretation is questionable, but Jenkins succeeds in convicting Wall as surely as the Florida courts convicted her lover. After establishing this debatable relationship, the picture drags on, punctuated by depictions of the murders in brutal detail in the apparent belief that these repetitions will provide greater clarity to Wuornos' motivations. In the end, we know little more than the lurid facts of the crimes themselves, leaving Theron's characterization devoid of the meaning necessary to justify the film's obvious desire to give the life of this violent woman some significance beyond her felonies. 

Despite a pair of compelling performances, this one doesn't add up to much.


Jake's Takes comments powered by Disqus