There is so much simmering under the surface of Monica. When her mother Eugenia (Patricia Clarkson) falls gravely ill, the titular character (played by Trace Lysette) returns home for the first time since being turned out as a youngster for her transgender identity. But whatever illness Eugenia has has addled her brain, and she seemingly doesn’t suspect that the woman who has come to help care for her is the daughter she rejected all those years ago.
Co-writer and director Andrea Pallaoro puts an understated spin on what could be an explosive scenario by letting much go unspoken, frequently framing Lysette’s face in long and wordless static shots. If the filmmaking edges towards being a little too patient at times, the naturally engaging Lysette keeps a firm hold of our attention with a vulnerable performance that expresses much without words. These infrequent wobbles aside, Monica’s restraint is to its credit: by not laying the drama on thick, all sorts of poignant nuances are allowed to bubble up, like the paradoxical difficulties and extraordinary intimacy that come with physically caring for a loved one. In choosing not to give Eugenia and Monica a direct confrontation or moment of revelation, too, the movie opens up to another beautiful possibility: acceptance, finally.
Actor: Adriana Barraza, Emily Browning, Jean Zarzour, Joshua Close, Patricia Clarkson, Trace Lysette
Director: Andrea Pallaoro