Friday, 6 April 2012

MONA (Lance Adams, 2012)

Jeff Hudson (Patton Oswalt) is thrilled when he lands a job as a writer for Bona Comics. He's been drawing and self-publishing his own titles for years with little success, and this opportunity is beyond his wildest dreams. His friends are confused that his chance has come now, and tease him about his love for Bona's most famous creation, Mona.

To them, Mona is nothing more than a refracted Wonder-Woman, a photocopied Supergirl; she has had so many shapely forms over the years, and been redrawn so frequently, that her face is a pixelated wash of back-stories. Up-close the dotted print of her skin is pockmarked with cancelled and re-cancelled origin tales, her hair burnt with re-dyed roots. But Jeff is in love, and encouraged by a dream in which it was prophesied that he would write 'The Greatest Story Ever Told In Boxes,' he approaches Bona with relish.

He has never before been past the lobby of the crumbling art-deco building in Midtown that has been home to Bona Comics since the late fifties, and he bounces his excitement off the high ceilings. His new colleagues are less enthusiastic. The other writers are depressed cynics who make it clear to Jeff that his writing abilities will rarely be used; The legendary originator of Bona and creator of Mona, Paul Bona (Frank Langella), has written every one of her stories for fifty years, and only takes on scraps of the team's ideas. Her shifting identity serves as testament to his obsessive attempts to perfect Mona.

Paul Bona lives and works on the top floor of the building, and rarely leaves. The writers send their efforts up to him in a dumbwaiter, and otherwise idle their days away playing pool. Jeff's illusions about his new employer are challenged, but when a combination of social ineptitude, persistence and a slapstick delivery mix-up (involving weary elevator man Tom Waits) results in Jeff stumbling into Bona's secret lair, he finds a surprise.

Rather than being the genius control freak of lore, Bona turns out to be a shambling wreck. He invites Jeff to stay and share Chinese food, and the pair sit in a dark room on furniture covered with sheets, while Bona tells his story. In the early years writing was easy for him. On any wet afternoon in the late fifties, Bona might invent and sketch a dozen superheroes, and fill in their histories before the bar closed. Those hopeful years were fuelled by his caffeinated energy and boozy enthusiasms. Of all of his creations, he loved none more than Mona. She grew from a blurry Amazonian pastiche into a modish icon by the mid-sixties, and flickered on the edges of mainstream success. Her small but loving fanbase stuck with her through manifold puberties and menopauses, as her powers evolved from the standard karate-expert/detective beginnings, on through various borrowed abilities, until the Mona we recognise today (a telekinetic sensitive),was established in the 1980s.

Bona tells Jeff that this was around the time that he realised, through the receding haze that was his recovery from alcoholism, that for a long time he had not been writing the stories. He'd always shared credits with younger writers to get them an avenue into the industry, but had written all the Mona stories himself. He hadn't remembered writing many of the seventies Mona strips, of course, because he was drunk for the whole decade. But that wasn't what he meant. 'At some point it dawned on me... that Mona herself has grown her own intelligence and is writing her own stories. She's already managed to siphon company funds into a new account in the name of her alter-ego, Jodie Green. I don't really understand how she did that. But I'm more concerned with what happens next.'

The shifting identity of Mona over the years wasn't caused by Bona's ego, fashion, or market forces it seems; but by Mona's own hand, as she aimed to craft her own personality. She is making herself into the woman she most wants to be.

Bona expects Mona to somehow make her escape. Can he stop her, with Jeff's help? Should they stop her? Would a flesh and blood Mona, filled with the good values Bona tried to instill in her, be a blessing to the world? And how will Jeff react to the prospect of his heroine threatening to become real?

Mona Directed by Lance Adams Produced by Rich Thompson Written by
Art Poize, Lance Adams Starring Patton Oswalt, Frank Langella, Marianne Faithfull (voice), Tom Waits Universal Pictures 115 mins. Release Date UK/US: May 2012 Tagline: 'And Woman Created Woman.'

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