Meet Monica Velour
What happens to sex symbols when they get old?
If they’re lucky, they die young, at the height of their allure. Before the drink, the drugs, the divorces, the abortions, the surgeries, the decades of hard living, take their toll. Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Jean Harlow, River Phoenix, Rudolf Valentino, Anna Nicole Smith (well, maybe not Anna Nicole Smith). They died at the top of their game, at the shining moment when they were at their most beautiful, their most talented, their most loved.
If they’re unlucky, they get old. Look at Elizabeth Taylor. Look at Tony Curtis. Wouldn’t we remember them so much more fondly if Liz had had died in a car crash just after Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? Or if Tony had been decapitated in an unexplained hairdressing mishap around the time of Taras Bulba? Then we wouldn’t have had to watch them get old, get bloated, do crap telly. Let’s face it; if Tupac was still alive he’d have got fat and have his own show on E! sandwiched between Ice T and the Kardashians. And that’s not a sandwich any of us would relish.
Some sex symbols however finally get some respect and start cornering the market in decent roles. After spending the ‘70s playing a collection of dolly-birds and eye candy in TV shows like Starsky and Hutch, Quincy M.E. and Vega$, Kim Cattrall broke into cinema in the ‘80s and played a succession of dolly-birds and eye candy in movies like Porky’s, Police Academy and Mannequin. For most of the ‘90s she languished in a series of non-descript roles in mostly under-performing films; Tom Hanks’ shrewish wife in The Bonfire of the Vanities, a sexy Vulcan in a Star Trek movie (leading to unconfirmed reports of a late-night photo-shoot on the Enterprise bridge wearing just Spock-ears), Rutger Hauer’s girlfriend in a half-remembered film about an alien who eats Londoners.
It wasn’t until 1998 she really exploded into the world’s consciousness as man-eating Samantha Jones in HBO’s groundbreaking TV show Sex and the City, inspiring a generation of 30-something women to forsake their cats, buy shoes they can’t afford, drink cocktails they don’t really like (come on, have you ever met anyone who actually likes the taste of a Cosmopolitan?), talk loudly about anal and oral sex in restaurants and generally, well, act a bit slaggy.
But after phenomenal success playing the quintessential cougar, how does an actress who’s built a career out of playing women defined by their sexuality break free of that typecasting? For Cattrall it’s been a two-pronged assault, first winning breathlessly good reviews for her West End stage work and now she’s destroying her sex symbol image by playing a broken-down, faded porn star whose glory days are thirty years behind her in Meet Monica Velour.
High school geek Tobe (Dustin Ingram) is a porn-obsessed loner who discovers his dream woman, ‘80s porn star Monica Velour is stripping in a small Midwest town. So he does what any enterprising young stalker would do; he climbs behind the wheel of his grandfather’s hot dog truck (sporting a giant hot dog on the roof and emblazoned with the words WEENIE WIZ) and heads off for his date with destiny. Monica (Kim Cattrall) however is nothing like her glamorous onscreen image. She’s a down-on-her-luck alcoholic single mom whose pushing 50, her glory days long be hind her. Deciding all she needs to get back on her feet is the love of a nerd, Tobe sets out to win the broken Monica’s heart and a bittersweet friendship develops between them which will change both their lives.
While it’s not exactly deep, Meet Monica Velour is a funny, good-natured coming-of-age tale with some nice performances from the excellent Brian Dennehy (an actor I was pleased just to see is still alive) as Tobe’s grandfather and Keith David as an eccentric artist who offers Tobe romantic advice. As Tobe, Dustin Ingram is fine if a bit like a stalker version of Napolean Dynamite, the kind of character who only exists in American Indie movies and who, in reality, would probably just kidnap, rape and murder the object of his affections. And just once I’d like to see a movie where the put upon weird kid flips and goes on a killing spree rather than learning life lessons from an aging porn star and a guy who collects kitsch.
The main reason to see this film though is Kim Cattrall. She dominates the film, delivering her best performance in years, obviously relishing lines like “You screw a few hundred guys, and the whole world turns against you,” and “You wouldn’t be the first guy to drive me out to the woods and try to kill me.” Having gained weight for the role, the transformation from the sophisticated Samantha Jones to the white-trash Monica is stunning. She looks old. She looks tired. She looks like a woman who’s used up. She looks like someone living life on the margins. She looks like a survivor. It’s a brave raw performance from Cattrall and almost deserves a better film.
A bittersweet comedy that’s as much about loneliness and regret as it is a coming-of-age drama, Meet Monica Velour deserved a better fate than going straight to DVD.
Kim Cattrall, Dustin Ingram, Brian Dennehy, Keith David, Jee Young Han