While its lanky, carrot-topped hero bears a superficial resemblance to Napoleon Dynamite, “Meet Monica Velour” seems more allied to the cross-generational alienation of “Ghost World,” with Kim Cattrall in the Steve Buscemi part. Frosh helmer Keith Bearden’s teen protagonist, equally fixated on ’30s pop music and the film’s titular over-the-hill ’80s porn star, brings a nerdy, collector-like sensibility to the sexual arena. Casually oddball, comically antiheroic coming-of-ager benefits greatly from Cattrall’s take-no-prisoners perf as a put-upon relic who still reigns as a sex goddess in a young geek’s eyes. One of the best-received films at Tribeca, pic should have bright theatrical prospects.
Tobe (Dustin Ingram) conveys scant optimism upon his graduation from high school, having inherited a hot-dog truck (suitably garnished with a giant wiener on top) from his cantankerous grandfather (Brian Dennehy), who has raised him since his parents’ death. His only friends: a chubby 12-year-old neighbor (Daniel Yelsky) and a dweeby classmate, Amanda (Jee Young Han), whose romantic attentions he only appreciates after he catches her using his preferred, state-of-the-art brand of vibrator.
When an aficionado of American pop artifacts (an expansively philosophical Keith David) offers Tobe $5,000 for his wiener-mobile if he drives it from Washington state to Indiana, he is unenthused — until he learns that his idol, Monica Velour (Cattrall), will be appearing at an Indiana “Gentleman’s Petting Zoo.” While Tobe demonstrates a nonpareil knowledge of Velour’s full filmography, which includes such porn masterworks as “M*U*F*F,” general audiences may be less conversant. But writer-director Bearden has already filled the gaps with an opening montage of vintage Velour clips, including a painfully funny sci-fi spoof featuring the intrepid space adventuress in a futuristic bikini, plastic ray-gun in hand.
Still, Tobe’s first encounter with Velour delivers more bang for the buck than expected (Cattrall gained considerable heft and eschewed makeup for the role). While the teen greets the appearance of the 50-plus ex-lovely with reverence and awe, other Petting Zoo patrons prove less appreciative of her antiquated striptease. Tobe’s chivalry earns him a bad beating but also a grudgingly granted trip to Monica’s trailer.
The ensuing relationship proves a roller-coaster of disillusionment, impatience, incredulity and finally affection as Monica and Tobe become lovers (his first, her thousandth-something), then improbable friends. Monica, embroiled in a vicious custody battle over her bright 8-year-old daughter, initially shows little inclination to mother a delusional teen and Tobe finds it troubling to accept Monica’s coterie of beer-bellied bikers. But ultimately, both emerge better off, with nary a moralistic life lesson in sight.
Thesping is excellent throughout. Cattrall kills as the cynically foul-mouthed ex-sex queen desperately trying to keep her head above water. Ingram, thankfully, doesn’t have a cute bone in his spindly body, what with his tastes so woefully eclectic and his proffered “helpfulness” more than slightly judgmental. Dennehy affectively subs for Tobe’s entire clan, while David’s eccentric artist reps an older, wiser and wittier version of the kid.
Masanobu Takayanagi’s crisp 35mm lensing and Lou A. Trabbie III’s savvily sleazy production design belie pic’s abbreviated shooting schedule and minuscule means.