Friday, April 15, 2011

Meet Monica Velour
Napoleon Dynamite's Risky Business

Dustin Ingram (left) as Tobe and Kim Cattrall as Monica in "Meet Monica Velour", directed by Keith Bearden. 
Anchor Bay

by Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW
Friday, April 15, 2011

If life is not what it's sometimes expected to be, then are porn stars?  An odd question to begin a movie review with perhaps, but the answer is obvious.  Real-life horror tales of porn stars then (Linda Lovelace) and now (Darren James) offer lots of proof of the risky business of porn.  If you are 17 you realize this (hopefully.)  Or, if you are 17 and you are Tobe Hulbert, awash in the fantasy of your favorite porn star from way back when -- you may not.

"Meet Monica Velour", written and directed by Keith Bearden (expanding today to San Francisco and other U.S. cities after its initial April 8 bow) tells Tobe's coming-of-age story and his infatuation with a fictional 1970s porn star named Monica Velour (Kim Cattrall), whom these days is performing under not-so-bright lights in a quiet Indiana town, enduring insults while trying to stay afloat as a single parent with two kids, living in a trailer van.

Tobe, a dorky Napoleon Dynamite-look-alike, lives at home with his crusty father (Brian Dennehy), who has given him a unique high school graduation present.  Tobe lost his mother at an early age.  For Tobe there are girls, there are women and then there's Monica, who gives him the kind of education he doesn't refuse.  Tobe is an old soul at heart, living in the reverie of 1950s music and yearning for simpler days as a teenager.  He means well and the purity of his deeds are linked to his innocence but also his genuine love for Monica.

Fantasy and reality collide in this sweet, very funny comedy that combines nostalgic, adolescent wide-eyed wonderment with middle-aged fear and bleakness.  Most impressive are the performances by Mr. Ingram but especially Ms. Cattrall, who brings a tough, unvarnished, vanity-free residue to Monica that is perfect for this small, intimate film.  The "Sex And The City" and "The Ghost Writer" actress excels playing Monica, even if here we are offered only a few glimpses of her.  (In the context of the film's story a glimpse is all one needs.)  Still, Ms. Cattrall is marvelous.  She doesn't oversell her character and is somewhat unlikable as Monica, which further strengthens Mr. Bearden's film.

Mr. Bearden parodies the cheesier aspects of pornographic films.  Ms. Cattrall dishes out the harsher truths.  The mix of the innocence and adult is modulated perfectly, and rarely does one overshadow the other.  Unlike glossier, empty-headed frat-boy fare like "Miss March" and its ilk, there's a sense of life and scope to "Meet Monica Velour", a wayward, slightly offbeat comedy that has a touch of "Risky Business" and inevitably "The Graduate" going for it.  "Meet Monica Velour" is appealing enough for a wider audience than its presumable demographic of teenage boys, but at the same time it clearly isn't a family film.

Mr. Bearden's old-time-feeling film rejects the modernism of the iPod generation while flaunting the Internet as a convenient search tool, not for online porn but for instant, witty search engine entries that range from funny to downright hilarious.  Mr. Ingram's comic timing is good, as is that of Keith David, who adds humor as a man looking to buy the graduation gift Tobe receives.  Mr. Dennehy draws laughs often in the role of one-man sight gag. 

All of the actors have fun and display a genuine joy in playing their characters no matter their circumstances, including Ms. Cattrall in a jarring portrayal of physicality and biting humor.  It's arguably the best work Ms. Cattrall has done in her long career, and for its scale and economy, the sharpest and rawest.  She shows she's capable of playing a figure who is unsympathetic and sympathetic at the same time.

At its heart "Meet Monica Velour" is a cute love story.  Unfortunately it briefly appears to champion the paternalistic and sexiest idea that a teenage boy supposedly knows what's best for a woman three times his age.  Yet "Monica" chronicles a sincere and tasteful look at the relationship between them.  This is underlined in one scene where imagination works infinitely better than display.

There's a suggestion that an additional woman in the film is pining to be a porn star herself, but it may just be that she is in a stage of life where identity and discovery are twins.  Mr. Bearden's "Monica" has flickers of sentimentality and he salutes Russ Meyer, whose sensibility is part of the film's fabric, as is a glam salute to porn stars via Mr. Ingram's Tobe, who has a lanky, androgynous quality to him. 

"Meet Monica Velour" is best when Ms. Cattrall is at her most brittle and deglamorized.  There's no "heart of gold" going on here -- just life, pure life.

With: Sam McMurray, Jamie Tisdale, Tony Cox, Jee Young Han, Daniel Yelsky, Jay Malack.

"Meet Monica Velour" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use.  The film's running time is one hour and 38 minutes.

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