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Monica Review: Trace Lysette Soars as Powerful Family Drama's Muse

Monica Review: Trace Lysette Soars as Powerful Family Drama's Muse


Lysette's name should be in awards conversations and on every casting director's list after this beautiful film.

Still waters run deep, and in Monica, some of the stillest moments are some of the most powerful.

The latest film from Italian filmmaker Andrea Pallaoro from a script he wrote with Orlando Tirado, Monica is a quietly powerful family drama centered around a trans woman, the titular Monica, played by the electric Trace Lysette.

Unlike most family dramas where one member of the family is trans, this story takes the point of view of the trans person. It follows Monica as she receives a call from her sister-in-law, telling her that her mother, who kicked her out when she came out, has dementia.

When Monica arrives, she’s introduced to her mother Eugenia (a gut-wrenching and graceful performance by Patricia Clarkson) simply as Monica, not as the woman’s daughter.

Throughout the rest of the movie, we see Monica spend time taking care of her mother and getting to know her again. There are small moments, like when Eugenia compliments her name and says she wishes she could change hers, or the two of them cuddling, or Monica helping Eugenia with her makeup, that show us that love and family connection are stronger than hate and ignorance.

When Eugenia is introduced to Monica, she isn’t told that she’s trans, and at least at first, she doesn’t recognize her as her daughter. She only knows this is someone who’s come to take care of her.

Soon, Eugenia knows a few more things. She trusts this person and loves this person.

She thinks she is a beautiful and lovely and special woman and she loves being close to her. While it’s left ambiguous, by the end of the film, it seems as though she recognizes that this woman she loves is her daughter, and she accepts her fully as her family.

All it took for her to forget that she doesn’t accept her trans daughter was to see her as a person. In a time when half of America is arguing that cis parents should hate their trans children and do anything they can to stop them from being trans, Monica is here to remind us just how shallow and easy to overcome that hatred is.

Monica is a largely quiet film with sparse dialogue, and that gives Lysette’s performance room to breathe. Instead of monologuing about what her feelings are, Monica shows us every emotion and thought going through her head with her face, body language, and the pure energy she exudes.

While much of the story is told with great restraint, the scenes where Monica lets out all the feelings she’s always having to hold in are some of the most powerful. Lysette’s performance is calm and controlled until explosions of emotion come out like a cloudburst in a desert starving for rain.

Lysette really shows off her skills as a performer here, exerting total control over her acting tools. After a career of mostly supporting roles in projects like Transparent, Hustlers, and Drunk History, Monica finally gives Lysette space to spread her wings — and she soars.

Monica is a beautiful and deeply affecting film, and one that will leave you thinking for weeks. Buoyed by meticulous directing and cinematography, Lysette is the clear standout of the movie, delivering a performance that should land her firmly in the Awards Season conversation and on the list of every casting director in Hollywood. Perhaps, even an Oscar nomination is in her future.

Monica opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on May 12, with more locations to be announced soon.

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