I once was at a neighborhood watch meeting when an older white lady stood up and said, “I don’t give a damn about the homeless, I just want to play at the park with my grandkids.” Monday Morning’s premise is her worst nightmare, whereas the film itself is actually mine. At the risk of making the same mistakes of which I speak, movies like Monday Morning make me want to develop a criticism template for cringe-inducingly contrived independent fare that insists on utilizing mainstream cinema language. Dream sequence, check. Film’s message clearly spelled out as often as possible by as many characters as there are available, check. Grandiose symphonic soundscape to suture any and all scenes that require the audience to feel something, check. Extreme allergy to any kind of nuance or ambiguity, check. Completely sterile waspy heterosexual characters, check.
Thomas Back (Victor Browne), a successful conservative radio host with the dull good looks of a Rob Lowe, is transitioning into a political career and supports an anti-homeless-people platform. When he’s lured from his home state of Minnesota to the treacherous streets of Santa Monica, California by a former high school fling, currently a junkie on skid row, he gets hit in the head by a crazy “bag lady” (his words). Upon waking up, he discovers that he’s swapped social classes the way other filmic odes to essentialist identity politics have their characters switch genders (Switch), kinship hierarchy (Freaky Friday), or marital statuses (The Change-Up).
Given the opportunity to walk in his enemies’ shoes, Thomas promptly experiences the human side of homelessness, from the really bad teeth to the grease-smeared faces. Women get raped, little children get sick, some get diabetes, others get burned alive. Monday Morning tries to address every possible problem surrounding the homeless in the most hackneyed ways. It’s so invested in articulating its lessons it becomes an overlong series of PSA-like vignettes supported by a jarring devotion to Hollywood convention—which it fails to properly mimic anyway.
When will independent filmmakers understand that formulaic film style can only spoil the non-traditional subject matter of their films? Why not allow the camera to sway, to swing, to shake and swerve? Why not litter the score with natural sounds and their organic drama instead of plastering a cookie-cutter piano track that wouldn’t be out of place in The NeverEnding Story’s flying scenes? Why not allow for the dirt on the actors faces and the rottenness of their teeth to contaminate the lens and the very structure of the film? In the end, our conservative homeless-hating hero has a change of heart, or so it seems, and learns to value what’s most important in life. He’s suddenly wiling to risk his career for love with a left-wing woman (allowing her to enter his limousine) and to trade his own life for the life of a sick homeless boy. Apparently, only a nasty blow to the head can make Tea Partiers see the light.