Monica & David
One of the many things people take for granted—Americans especially—is free will. Basic human rights. When you are able-bodied, physically able to take care of yourself, the ways to access free will seem limitless—there are plenty of things you are able to participate in, such as having a job, living on your own, and preparing your own meals. In Monica & David, novice filmmaker Alexandra Codina documents the wedding and first year of marriage between Monica and David, two adults living with Down’s syndrome.
The titular Monica is Codina’s cousin and it is clear to see why the filmmaker was interested in filming the couple. The best moments celebrate the tenderness between the couple whose love for each other is more than apparent through constant physical affection, pet-name-calling and emotional support. They exude a genuine excitement about spending their lives together and take pride in calling each other husband and wife. In an especially touching moment, Monica shares a letter she’s written to her birth father, who left when she was very young, and David sits next to her holding her hand and offering soft words of encouragement.
Codina’s footage offers a personal glimpse into issues around independence, identity, and care-taking: how we construct who we are in relationship to who we are to others. The dependent relationship in the roles of parents and children is highlighted by Monica’s mother, Maria Elena, and step-father, Bob, who are sincerely trying to offer the couple autonomy but cannot quite loosen their grip. Having both lived in their parents’ homes, as a couple Monica and David move into a separate wing of Maria Elena and Bob’s house, the parents who appear to be more financially equipped to support the couple. A discussion of financial privilege and women’s work would have been effective here, but Codina fail to flush out these issues. There is a brief mention of Maria Elena’s experience as a single mother who worked her way up from an airline flight attendant to VP of the company so that she‘d be able to provide for her daughter.
Overall, had Codina given more attention to the experiences of Monica and David’s mothers raising their children, it may have made for a richer film. Both hardly twenty years old when their children were born, the women immediately faced resistance from their doctors. Maria Elena recalls the doctor walking in to her room at her first ultrasound and announcing “Your child is a mongoloid,” while David’s mother was persuaded to give her son up for adoption. Here Codina misses an opportunity to bring this experience into a larger dialogue surrounding reproductive rights and our nation’s pro-natal “family values” narrative. Perhaps this drawback points to the flaw in researching your family, but the lack of subtext is ultimately the flaw of the film.