It’s probably safe to say that Your Monster is the only film ever to score a sex scene to Jimmy Durante’s raspy voice singing, “I could turn the gray skies to blue, if I only had you.” Caroline Lindy’s first feature (based on her short) is a singing, dancing, skewed comic take on rom-coms, heartbreak, rebounds and revenge. Full of affection for big Broadway-style tunes, with a heroine whose dream man is soft-hearted but also not human, it is a sharp, witty confection.
Laura Franco (Melissa Barrera), a would-be actress, is in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery when her boyfriend breaks up by text. As we see in the opening sequence, she howls and weeps, but even as she’s being wheeled out of the hospital, we hear Dick Van Dyke cheerfully singing “Put on a Happy Face” from the original Broadway cast album of Bye Bye Birdie. The chipper song lands here as preposterous and silly, just what Lindy’s film turns out to be.
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Barrera may be known for Scream (2022) and Scream VI, but she doesn’t lean into horror-queen memes. Playing it straight, she depicts Laura as weak, deflated, and not as talented as Barrera is. (Your Monster was obviously shot before Barrera was dropped from Scream VII in November.) Living alone in her childhood home, abandoned by Mazie, the flaky best friend who promised to be there for her — Kayla Foster perfectly captures Mazie’s self-absorption — Laura mopes around, binge-eating the dozens of pies her absent mother has sent. She sends pathetic texts, the kind your friends tell you never to send, to the ex-boyfriend, Jacob (Edmund Donovan makes him thoroughly obnoxious), who is now staging the musical she helped him develop. That leading role was supposed to have been hers.
Out of the depths of her despair and imagination, a monster comes out of her bedroom closet, a dead ringer for the Beast from the animated Disney classic, a little the worse for wear. Laura reminds him that she first saw him under her bed in 1994, which would have been three years after the Disney film was released, so no coincidence there. This creature, whom she calls Monster, also seems to have way too much old-style theatrical greasepaint on his face. Whether that is a joke or bad special effects makeup is hard to say. Otherwise, the film has a natural, crisp look, with unobtrusive camerawork and set design that enhances a sense of realism — in Laura’s lived-in house and on the streets of New York — even as her imagination goes wild.
As Monster, Tommy Dewey (Casual) gives this beast emotions. His brusqueness doesn’t last long. He even recites Shakespeare, appropriately a monologue from The Comedy of Errors. In classic rom-com opposites-attract style, when Monster and Laura watch old movies on television, she weeps at Royal Wedding and he thinks Night of the Living Dead is a documentary. Whether falling in love with this imaginary creature is more or less healthy than eating all those pies is not something the film gets judgmental about. Monster encourages her to audition for Jacob’s show, so at least he gets her out of the house.
With that musical, called House of Good Women and set at a private girls’ school, the film takes a sharp satirical turn. The egotistical Jacob calls his work “A love letter to women.” It is actually musical mansplaining, set to brash, Broadway-echoing original songs by Daniel and Patrick Lazour, heard in rehearsals and on opening night. Meghann Fahy (The White Lotus season 2) is perfectly cast as the more famous actress who swans in and gets the role meant for Laura. And eventually Barrera gets to belt out songs for real, as she did in In the Heights.
The ending, as it swerves away from the overall comic tone, doesn’t quite work, but it is audacious, and earns the film its place in Sundance’s Midnight line-up.
Lindy has said that Your Monster was inspired by her own experience of being dumped by text while in the hospital recovering from surgery. Making a good film is the best revenge.
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