Caroline Lindy’s Your Monster rests on several distinct worlds, each with their own rich traditions. No wonder critics have been unsure how to categorize it. Is it a horror, a comedy or a rom-com? To boot, it is set in the dog-eats-dog world of Broadway musical acting, making it also a musical-adjacent film. The central drives of the main character, young actor Laura Franco (Melissa Barrera), revolve around these worlds: Her biggest dream is landing a leading role on Broadway but her current obsession is her ex Jacob (Edmund Donovan). He broke up with her recently, when she was diagnosed with cancer, and she can’t get over it. To make it worse, he has taken away from her the one thing she truly cared about: the leading role of the musical they developed together. Jacob has instead gave it to a famous star, Annie (Meghann Fahy from White Lotus, Season II).
There is enough to make a plot here but I haven’t even mentioned the titular protagonist yet: a monster Laura discovers in her closet. Looking every beat like the beast of Disney’s Beauty and Beast, we might expect the Monster (Tommy Dewey) to prove to be a prince in hiding, a metaphorical device or something other than a straightforward monster. But he turns out to be a pretty monster-y monster. He is hairy, strong, eats like a pig and, is, well, a beast in bed as Laura finds out. True, he is also jealous, loves reciting Shakespeare and knows who serves the best Chinese food in the neighborhood. But the emphasis is on his monstrous qualities.
The best thing about basing your film in several universes and genres is that you can use the strengths of each to enrich the film. Your Monster does a bit of that. The Broadway bit is done well, giving us a chuckle with its portrayal of how fast and cruel the theater world can be; seen especially in the whirlwind friendship between Laura and her best friend Mazie (Kayla Foster.) Laura ends up getting the understudy position for the main role and the main song she keeps practicing (and which she helped write) is catchy enough to give a fun feel to the film and make us come along. Perhaps the film could have gone in this direction and make Laura’s passion and talent for acting and music more convincing. I personally kept waiting for a scene where she’d awe everybody, including us, with a performance – it never quite comes.
How about the romantic angle and all the monster stuff? The cutesy scenes of Laura and the Monster co-habiting – haggling over which movies to watch, fighting over the thermostat – feel like off-the-shelf and don’t quite land. Their romance is not particularly adorable. Not enough world-making has been done for us to sympathize with the Monster and the world he comes from. As it is, he feels like a furrier version of your average jealous lover.
As for Laura’s love-and-career saga with her ex, she ends up teaming up with Annie against Jacob whose douchebag, power-hungry, ruthless and treacherous character is over-done and perhaps a little one-dimensional (What does Laura find in him? What did she ever find in him?). The final scene, of course, will involve a historic performance with Laura leading the show on the opening night while critics, including one from the New York Times, are in the first row. With the help of the Monster, Laura brings about a gory revenge upon the ex, right on that very stage.
This is a film about fantasies. Fantasies of mating with a monster and getting him to mess up your nasty ex. The revenge fantasy mode has a lot going for it. Throughout modern literature and cinema, as we have dismayed at the dogged persistence of capitalism, fascism and patriarchy, we’ve enacted our fantasies of revenge on screen. Think Tarantino with his Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds. There are non-fantasy feminist versions like the brilliant Promising Young Woman by Emerald Fennell. But these revenge plots work because there is a ring of justice to them and a worthiness to the cause of their protagonists. Can we say the same about the ending of Your Monster? I can’t. But perhaps I am too speciesist to get it.
Dir. Caroline Lindy
Sundance Film Festival 2024
My rating: 3.5 out of 5