“Monster,” a true-crime drama about Florida serial killer Aileen Wuornos, debuts at the Smith Opera House this weekend. In her Best Actress Oscar-winning performance, Charlize Theron, the tall bombshell of “The Cider House Rules,” has bulked up her body, mottled her flesh and fitted herself with dental prosthetics to turn herself into a startling approximation of Wuornos, a prostitute who was convicted in 1992 of murdering seven of her johns and was eventually executed.
“Monster” follows Wuornos from the beginning of her crime spree to her final trial, and the Theron's transformation is uncanny. Like Robert De Niro did for “Raging Bull,” Theron got into her character by packing on extra pounds. So thoroughly does the star deglamorize herself that she's hard to recognize at first, not only because of her thickened body and coarsened face, but also because of that short-fuse attitude — a mix of despair, desire, rage and desperation.
Both Theron and co-star Christina Ricci, as Wuornos' lesbian girlfriend Selby Wall (a fictionalized version of Wuornos' real-life companion, Tyria Moore), mine surprising emotion from their relationship. Patty Jenkins, the gifted new writer-director making her feature debut here, treats Wuornos' crime spree as a tragic love story, and though that sounds like a dubious interpretation, the actresses make it work.
When the first murder occurs, Jenkins treats it as self-defense; Aileen lashes back after sadistic client Vincent (Lee Tergesen) ties and beats her. But soon she is killing more for revenge than self-defense, and even more for money to keep Selby. Progressively, her victims or near-victims get more innocent: a white-haired cop; a nervous, gentle first-timer (Pruitt Taylor Vince); and finally a benevolent family man just trying to help her out (Scott Wilson, who played a famous real-life killer himself, Dick Hickock, in the 1967 “In Cold Blood”).
The Smith Opera House screens “Monster” at 7 p.m. on March 11 and 13 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 14. With a running time of 110 minutes, this film is rated R for strong violence and sexual content, and for pervasive language. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors. All seats on Thursday are $3. Call 315-781-5483 or toll-free 866-355-5483 for details or to pre-order tickets.
The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.