You’d have to forgive Laura Franco (Melissa Barrera) for being a little out of sorts these days. In short order, she’s been: diagnosed with cancer, dumped by her douchebag boyfriend, undergone radical treatment, moved back into her childhood home (alone, her mother is, as ever, gone), realized said douchebag boyfriend has also absconded with the musical they wrote together (and given away the part literally made for her!), and discovered that the monster she thought she imagined in her youth is still very much alive and very much living in her closet (and played by the charming Tommy Dewey).

Filmmaker Caroline Lindy makes her feature directorial debut with “Your Monster,” but it’s a story she’s told before, both in life (Lindy herself went through many of Laura’s same travails, including the cancer diagnosis and treatment and the douchebag boyfriend who dumped her during the ordeal; good for her for finding the wherewithal to spin all of that into art) and on the screen (she’s expanded the feature from her 2020 short of the same name, which also starred Dewey as Monster).

Lindy’s passion for and connection to the material is obvious (how could it not be?), as is her desire to twist a sad story into something fresh and often funny. Sweet, even! But an unhinged final act, plus a jaw-dropper of a finale, seems at odds with everything else she’s revealed, and this genre-spanner goes from, well, spanning to something else: not being able to hold onto any of its many spinning plates.

Lindy rolls through most of the setup within the film‘s opening minutes, soon landing us in Laura’s seeming purgatory: her childhood home (a very nice Manhattan brownstone, not too shabby!). Banging around her old house, feeling understandably sorry for herself, no one is more shocked than Laura to discover she’s not alone at all. Turns out, Monster, a childhood imaginary friend who seems more styled on The Beast than Drop Dead Fred, is still hanging out in her closet, just waiting for his Laura to reappear and reclaim him.

Monster is, of course, a manifestation of Laura’s rage, but he’s also — and you’re either gonna vibe with this or not, but we will say that Barrera and Dewey’s chemistry goes a long way to selling it — kind of a cutie? As the rest of Laura’s life continues to curdle, Monster’s affection for her and his very genuine understanding of her character can’t help but warm her up, and the pair eventually fall into something like a rom-com. With teeth. (And musical numbers!)

Despite the unexpected semi-romance lightened Laura up, not much else is going her way. The only other person in her life is her best friend Mazie (Kayla Foster, who perfectly swings between “ditzy” and “absolutely infuriating,” choices that prove way out by the end of the film), and she can’t exactly be counted on. And what of that douchebag ex? Not only is Jacob (Edmund Donovan) thriving out there in the world, he’s also about to take his musical (wait, sorry, his and Laura’s musical, not that he remembers that) to Broadway with a big, shining star (Meghann Fahy, more great casting) playing the role meant (made!) for Laura.

Another genre on the block in “Your Monster”: female-empowerment stories written by men who just don’t goddamn get it. Jacob doesn’t get it, and even though everything that works about his musical about great, maligned women was probably written by Laura, that won’t stop him from putting his douchebag fingerprints all over it (did it really need to be set in a private school for girls, complete with cutesy little uniforms?). What does, however, trip him up just a bit is when Laura, emboldened and inspired by Monster and their musical stylings, turns up to audition for the show, snagging a (lesser) part along the way. What could possibly go wrong? If that sounds like a lot, boy, is it.

Lindy’s interest in dipping into a multitude of genres often inhibits her from hitting high notes — though this is a filmmaker we’d love to see go to town on the kind of classic rom-com that “Your Monster” attempts to be for at least its middle act — and ultimately lands the film on a bummer of a conclusion. Mostly, it feels as if Lindy’s script (and an extremely game Barrera) doesn’t quite understand how the big! show-stopping! revenge-driven! final sequence feels after the journey we’ve been on with Laura and Monster.

It feels bad, and it opens up a wealth of questions about this story, about Laura, that the rest of the film doesn’t touch. It is, in a word, monstrous. But even worse, it feels undercooked, malformed in a way the rest of Lindy’s bold fairy tale isn’t. Worse yet: It makes us wonder what this is really saying, and what sort of fairy tale we’ve really been fed.

Grade: C+

“Your Monster” premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.

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