‘Monica’ is a drama film that revolves around the titular character, a trans woman who is estranged from her family for quite some time. She had a falling out with her mother over her sexuality and left home years ago. But when her sister-in-law calls to inform her about her mother’s terminal brain tumor, Monica decides to go back home. The only problem is that she isn’t going back to her house as a daughter but as a caregiver because Monica’s mother doesn’t recognize her as she has never seen her since before her transition.
Moreover, the slow deterioration of her brain health doesn’t help with her memory either. Directed by Andrea Pallaoro, the film stars Trace Lysette, Patricia Clarkson, Joshua Close, and Emily Browning. ‘Monica’ is a powerful narrative about acceptance, and many in the LGBTQ+ community would be able to relate to it. But is there any truth behind the story itself? Let’s dive in together and find out!
Is Monica a True Story?
No, ‘Monica’ is not a true story. The film has been produced from an original screenplay co-written by director Andrea Pallaoro and Orlando Tirado. However, the character of Monica was inspired by a close friend of Pallaoro’s. The story takes an intimate yet distant look at Monica’s life with her family, some of whom (like her sister-in-law) she didn’t even know existed. While the film’s premise is about a woman who wasn’t accepted by her mother for being a transperson and had to leave home because of it, the orientation itself isn’t the focus of the story.
“It’s a story about a woman who returns home. We never see the struggles of her past; we just feel them,” Pallaoro said in an interview with Cineuropa. Speaking about what inspired him to write the story in the first place, the director continued, “I am fascinated by the traumas that come from abandonment. When I say ‘abandonment,’ I also mean not being accepted or recognized for who you really are – especially by your parents. It’s something that every human being has experienced to a certain extent, some much more than others, and we can all understand how it feels.”
Pallaoro continued, “That’s what makes her story so universal. Through Monica, maybe people will come to terms with their own complicated family dynamics.” This approach itself is a big leap in terms of LGBTQ+ representation in media. Instead of dwelling on the fact that she’s transitioned and using it as the character’s entire personality, the film simply says that she is a woman. In this way, ‘Monica’ includes those who have been historically seen as the “other.” This also means that the character itself is open to more forms of interpretation beyond the fact that she’s a transperson.
Leading the cast as Monica is Trace Lysette, a trans actress who is known for her work in the series ‘Transparent‘ and then the Jennifer Lopez starrer film, ‘Hustlers.’ In a conversation with The Queer Review, Lysette talked about what made her want to take on the role of Monica in the film. “I thought she was special and she represented so many of us, with the parallels in her story to mine and to the stories of my girlfriends. Also, the rareness of a character like this made me feel like I had to leave it all on the floor, that I had to leave my soul in Cincinnati. I just gave it everything that I had,” she said.
The actress also revealed how a few of the sequences in the film were shot near and in Dayton, Ohio, where she grew up herself, so the story felt even closer to her. Lysette also commented on how she appreciates that the film does not focus on Monica’s journey as she transitions. “We’ve seen enough transition stories, it’s like we’ve been beaten over the head with them. There are so many trans people out here who have lived these full-bodied lives who are the ones we need to be speaking to the most, our trans elders; people who have lived this way for 20 years-plus, like me and my generation,” said Lysette.
Lysette added, “Trans people who have been in this life for a long time are anointed and so special to me, and I think that’s part of the reason why I love Monica so much.” The film isn’t dialogue heavy, and much of the dramatization between the characters takes place through pointed looks and serious glances, as well as the actions they perform together. Though not a true story, ‘Monica’ does bring to the forefront a different aspect of the trans experience — that of simply living and going through the motions, both good and bad.
Read More: Best LGBTQ+ Movies on Netflix