In 10 Words or Less
A regular life for very special people
Loves: Good documentaries
Likes: Uplifting stories
Dislikes: Feeling guilty
Hates: Being manipulated
I'd heard about Monica & David for a while, as a film about two married people with Down's Syndrome is bound to garner some attention. turning the camera on such a unique situation is guaranteed to result in some compelling footage, but the way it's handled will determine how it's seen, as you could end up with a touching portrait of people overcoming their limitations and society's expectations, or you could create a finger-pointing "freak show" that holds its subjects up as unusual, or worse yet, fodder for laughs.
With one of the main characters' cousin, Alexandra Codina, behind the camera, the latter possibility was unlikely, but it also meant increased access for the film. Of course that comes with hugely inherent bias on the part of the filmmaker, but this isn't exactly a journalistic endeavor that requires a healthy amount of integrity. Instead, it's a love story, not just for the two leads but for those around them as well, as the challenges they face and the sacrifices they must make are rooted in unconditional love. They would have to be, as the lives of Monica and David, and especially Monica's parents, who luckily seem to have the resources needed to help support the couple, are not easy and seem to only get more difficult.
Rather than tell their story chronologically, we meet Monica and David just before their big day, as they prepare for their wedding like any other bride and groom, with all the details, ceremony and nervousness that your average marriage starts with. Though there's no denying that to the eye the two are not "normal," with Monica seeming a bit higher functioning than David, there's not much about their union that indicates they are different than any other couple. By choosing to start with such a universal situation, the film gives everyone an in, and then takes you into the particulars of their lives, be in their challenges in finding work, David's health issues, or the struggles their families have faced since the duo's births, as having children with Down's has brought tremendous stress to the mothers.
Codina's first effort as a filmmaker does a fine job of getting the story across, but there are definitely areas where more experience, and perhaps more distance from the subject matter, might have helped. It was a bit surprising that there was little time spent on the experiences of those with Down's in minority communities, as both Monica and David come from Latino families, and Monica, despite battling her stuttering, is at least somewhat bilingual. Perhaps, being immersed in South Florida's Latino culture, this didn't stand out, but it would be interesting to see more of, as frequently those marginalized by disabilities are even further marginalized in minority communities due to a lack of resources or cultural issues. More time spent with Bob, Monica's stepfather, who is often seen on the edges of scenes, shuffling around in his baseball cap, would have been worth the effort as well, as he married into the situation as an outsider and could offer a different perspective.
Though the main issue one could nitpick on is omission, there are problems, one in particular, with the editing. About 47 minutes into the film, there's a scene in a hallway of the house that seems truly dramatic, with lots of whispers and mumbles, and people moving in and out of rooms, yet, after several views, it's not exactly clear what's happening. If you took this scene, which lasts almost three minutes, out of the film, nothing about the movie changes. There are a few moments like this, where tightening the film would have helped. It's actually quite surprising, considering co-editor Mary Manhardt (whose name is misspelled in the credits on the box) is a well-known Emmy -winning editor. Without knowing more, one wonders if there's some shorthand here that Codina understands and pushed for, but which leaves viewers on the outside. If that's supposed to give the viewer a bit of a sense of what Monica and David might frequently experience, then bravo, but that might be giving too much credit.
A one-disc release packed in a standard keepcase, this DVD has an animated, anamorphic widescreen menu, with options to play the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the extras. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English, English SDH and Spanish SDH, while audio descriptions are included in English and Spanish (for the film only.)
Delivered in anamorphic widescreen, this looks like your average pro-sumer video camera work, with excessive noise during darker inside scenes, and a nice clean image when outside, but overall, it looks OK, with decent, but not great color, and black levels that lean a bit toward the gray. That's no fault of the disc's, as there are no issues with compression artifacts or other digital issues.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is just what you'd expect from such an intimate documentary, but it does a fine job of delivering the voices in front of the camera, keeping the need for subtitles to a minimum. Everything is center-balanced, so there's nothing dynamic about the mix, but there's nothing on-screen that would really be enhanced by a more active aural presentation.
A selection of five deleted scenes (playable separately) doesn't add a tremendous deal to the couple's story, offering a bit more of what's seen in the film and a bit of their outside-the-house lives that went unseen in the film, though a final moment between the two as they sit on the couch is genuinely adorable.
If this DVD was intended to be a teaching tool, the presence of the short (7:44) feaurette "Employment in the Community," also from Codina, ensures its point is not missed, as it highlights a few mentally disabled people and the jobs they work. Unlike Monica and David, these people are working full-time jobs with unadjusted responsibilities, and they serve as examples against the idea that people with mental handicaps can't be valued employees.
The Bottom Line
Though Monica and David's shared life is undoubtedly unique and will have an effect on anyone with even a sliver of a human heart, the value of the film is almost entirely in their story and not really the way it's told, as it comes off as more of a highly evolved home movie than a quality documentary. The quality of the presentation is good, but the extras are too limited to affect a buyer's decision-making. It's certainly worth a look, but ownership is likely outside of most viewers' level of interest.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.