Tribeca Film Fest: Cattrall serves up sex in the Heartland
By Scott Feinberg
Keith Bearden’s “Meet Monica Velour” premiered on Sunday at New York’s School of Visual Arts as part of the ninth annual Tribeca Film Festival. After just a few minutes of establishing material, the film began to look a lot like other low-budget indies that recently clicked: its protagonist is a veritable — and virginial — nerd (very similar to the title character in “Napoleon Dynamite”); it constantly employs sight gags like a decades-old Weenie-mobile (not a far stretch from the VW-bus in “Little Miss Sunshine”); its script calls for hip/irony-laden dialogue and terms like “Homeslice” (which is embarassingly similar to “Homeskillet” in “Juno”); and the list goes on. The reality is that this film cannot compete with those films on their strengths, but it does have a few of its own — and none is greater than the actress who plays its eponymous character, Kim Cattrall.
It takes a while before Monica Velour pops up, since the film is ostensibly the story of Tobe, the 17-year-old outcast (20-year-old newcomer Dustin Ingram) from the state of Washington who is obssessed with her. Tobe, whose mother died when he was just three and who was raised by his alcoholic grandfather (Brian Dennehy in a colorful performance), has spent his youth escaping from the present into the past. His bedroom (and head) are cluttered with nostalgic memorabilia — old music, old movies, and, yes, old porn. Shortly after he graduates from high school, he reads that his favorite porn star of all, a 1970’s blonde bombshell named Monica Velour, will be making a rare appearance at a strip club in Indiana. That happens to be the same state in which another nostalgist is willing to pay him good money for the Weenie-mobile (his grandfather’s graduation gift to him), so he decides he cannot pass up the opportunity, even though it means driving halfway across the country.
When he arrives, the strip club turns out to be a dump, the clientele pigs, and Monica Velour… well, a little past her sell-by date. Her get-up and routine look like something out of Vaudeville, and when some of the audience starts to shout mean-spirited catcalls at her (basically calling her a grandma), Tobe, aided by the alcohol that the club has been forcing down his throat, musters the strength to speak up in her defense — and gets himself pummeled in the process. Later, after being fired from the club, Monica comes across the ambulance in the parking lot in which Tobe is being treated, and agrees to take him home until he has sobered up. Once there, the truth about his situation (he’s a virgin who worships her) and hers (she’s a drunk who mourns for the life she could have led and the daughter that her ex keeps her from seeing) begins to come out in the open, and — wouldn’t you know it — they form a “Harold and Maude” (1971) type bond… that eventually crosses a line that Harold and Maude, thankfully, never did, but in this case seems only fitting.
Ingram does a good enough job (although he sometimes plays up the weirdo-factor to such an extent — staring open-mouthed for long stretches or chucking and kicking his bicycle in front of strangers — that one might question whether there’s actually something mentally deficient about him), but the truth is that this movie would be nothing if not for Cattrall, who shines. Even though the actress, at 53, doesn’t look a day older than 40, it still took real guts for her, as someone who is best known as the glamorous, confident, even cocky Samantha from “Sex in the City” (and its forthcoming sequel), to scrape off all of her makeup, lay bare her wrinkles and her saggy bits, and portray a defeated has-been. Moreover, a film such as this could easily have sunken into campy melodrama, but thanks for Cattrall — and the vivacity, humor, and compassion always evident in her cat-like eyes — it never does. As foolish and mean as Monica sometimes behaves, one can’t help but like and root for her.
NOTE: I got a particular kick out of the film because I, too, once spent some quality time getting to know a porn star with whose work I may or may not previously been acquainted.