American Girl

Patty Jenkins and Charlize Theron give birth to a Monster

Otherwise, this movie's script is a gift to the world's screenwriting teachers, vigorously marking each step of Aileen's decline while filling each scene with indelible poignance. From Aileen and Selby's plummet into lust at a chipper skating rink (with Blondie, INXS and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" setting the mood) to an absolutely stunning visual reveal (film term, folks) in the dénouement, Jenkins reveals herself to be a gifted new talent.

Also noteworthy is Ricci's wonderful performance, which seems, at first, to be similar to her other roles (it could be the same girl from Pumpkin) but then feels genuinely dramatically strenuous. Playing second fiddle to Theron's big freak here could have been a real drag, but Ricci greets the challenge with the air of a consummate professional. From escaping her mad, gun-loving family to realizing, at last, that her queer friends might offer better shelter than her murderess girlfriend, Ricci gives us a superb turn. Only the thickest of skulls would fail to perceive the resonance of her work.

A transformed Charlize Theron defies stunt-casting and gives a powerhouse performance
A transformed Charlize Theron defies stunt-casting and gives a powerhouse performance

Of course it's Theron's show, and the compassion she helps us to extend to Wuornos -- and the beleaguered feminine aspect of anyone -- is unforgettable. Particularly moving is the sequence in which she battles to earn a straight living. The smug judgment-and-expulsion of her interviewers is something many have felt, and its delivery here drives home the significance of Wuornos' spiral. Simply, it reminds us that when someone is begging for just a tiny handhold, it's probably best to offer it. Even if that person's an actress.

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