The Monkey's Mask (2000)


(director: Samantha Lang; screenwriters: Anne Kennedy/novel by Dorothy Porter; cinematographer: Garry Phillips; editor: Dany Cooper; music supervisor: Andrew Kotalko; cast: Susie Porter (Jill Fitzpatrick), Kelly McGillis (Professor Diana Maitland), Marton Csokas (Nick Maitland), Abbie Cornish (Mickey Norris), William Zappa (Detective Sergeant Wesley), Brendan Cowell (Hayden), Jean-Pierre Mignon (Tony Brach), Caroline Gillmer (Barbara Brach), Jim Holt (Bill McDonald), Linden Wilkinson (Mrs. Norris), John Noble (Mr. Norris); Runtime: 93; Strand Releasing; 2000-Australia)

“The mystery story seemed drained of any suspense.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This lesbian romance/mystery story is set in Sydney, Australia, and was adapted from Dorothy Porter’s acclaimed “a novel-in-poetry” about the underground poetry scene. Susie Porter (no relation to the author) as Jill Fitzpatrick is a frisky twentysomething lesbian, ex-cop, who has been hired as a PI by the Norris family to find their missing teenage daughter poetess. Jill does the narration via a film noir type of hard-boiled voice-over. The film views the slimy side of the poetry scene and studies the reactions of the likable working-class PI compared to the pretentious and cold poets she encounters for her first experience in such an arty setting. The mystery story failed to be anything but ordinary, but the lesbian romance part held one’s interest in an off-handed manner.

Jill is a tiny leather-jacket wearing red-head in short-cropped hair. She interviews Mickey Norris’s (Cornish) statuesque middle-class fortysomething poetry teacher, the stunning blonde, Professor Diana Maitland (Kelly McGillis). The two begin an affair in which Diana’s thirtysomething, lower-class kept hubby, the sleazy lawyer named Nick (Csokas), gleefully encourages. While the detective and the teacher make steamy love, Mickey’s found dead from strangulation and since the police are insensitive to the behavior of their sexually free daughter and fail to go after the killer — her bewildered parents hire Jill again to track the murderer.

Jill uncovers that Mickey was a nympho sleeping with almost all the men poets in her climb up the ladder of the poetry scene, and is given to poems with shocking verses such as: “The prick is a knife that hurts me, I wish my cunt would hurt you.” And her more sensitive poem has this verse: “You just listen with your cock in my mouth.” Diana’s explanation of her former student is that “she’s trying to be Sylvia Plath. She has a sweet exterior, but is boiling over with passion inside.” Jill meets with a bunch of poets including the publisher Barbara Brach and her middle-aged poet hubby Tony, who has a reputation as a seducer of his young female students and was having an affair with Mickey. There are other lovers of Mickey, such as the hypocritical fanatic Jesus poet Bill McDonald. The private investigation goes on while her relationship with the intellectually gifted Diana sizzles. At one point Diana tells her “that she’s a great fuck, but an ordinary detective.” Naturally, that spurs the detective on to solve the case in a tricky way that catches the thrill-seeking arty couple off-guard. Jill proves that even though she’s intellectually inferior to Diana and her crowd, she’s still cunning enough to assert herself and do her job. She manages to be the only younger person not to be exploited by the older crowd of poets.

The film seemed lost after the dyke scenes, as director Samantha Lang (“The Well“) had nothing relevant to say about the murdered girl. The mystery story seemed drained of any suspense. For a film that was so daring in its sex scenes and its use of sexually explicit poems, the overall film seemed routine.

In one of many ridiculous film moments, a line lifted directly from Porter’s book “I never knew poetry could be as sticky as sex,” seems so out of place yet it defines what the film was trying to get at — but the weak murder mystery story kept getting in its way.