Monica (2023)

Director: Andrea Pallaoro

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Trace Lysette, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Browning, Joshua Close, Andriana Barraza

Living a lonely life, Monica (Trace Lysette) is contacted out of the blue by Laura (Emily Browning), the sister-in-law that she has never met. After being told about the terminal illness of her mother, Eugenia (Patricia Clarkson), Monica returns to visit the estranged family that she has not seen since she came out as transgender.

Adapting a script that he co-wrote with Orlando Tirado, director Andrea Pallaoro crafts a gorgeously shot and intimate story following the titular woman facing her painful past. Layers are slowly unveiled across this quiet and reserved tale, where the cast effectively convey their inner turmoil through facial expressions. While the tale can make for absorbing viewing, the pacing can feel a bit too calm at times and at times struggle to hold one's interest across the 113-minute runtime.

As Monica's return makes her confront unresolved pain, glimpses are offered into the psychological effects abandonment has had on the protagonist. She became used to living alone, and the one person who momentarily changed that became her lifeline, resulting in the lead leaving numerous messages despite him wanting space. The daily exhaustions in Monica's life are powerfully delivered, from a guy's repeated offers to work on her car, to a planned date that results in her being stood up. Lysette effectively captures the evident frustration that builds from how distant she feels from her mother, reaching a tipping point which involves a primal scream that is powerfully delivered.

Reconnecting with her family allows Monica to reunite with her brother, Paul (Joshua Close), who tries coping with the impending loss by taking pictures of his mother. There are also hints at relationship difficulties he has with Laura, although the exact circumstances are not revealed. Touching connections are formed as this family reunite, whether it is Monica bonding with her nieces and nephews, or a highlight where the siblings reflect on memories both charming and painful.

Despite her devastating reality, Eugenia maintains a determination to care for herself while stubbornly refusing medication. Clarkson effectively captures this woman who was a difficult mother, yet appears to be intent at compensating for her actions with what time remains as she feels the pain of aging. While the past pain cannot be erased, what lies ahead is a path of healing and acceptance which indicates that a brighter future may be possible.

Monica is available in cinemas now