Call it Chekhov’s platitude. You see a conspicuous title like “Always Sometimes Monsters,” and you can bet that in the third act some character is going to fire off that string of words verbatim as part of some truism on the human condition. We’re always sometimes monsters, you see. Or something.
I can hear echoes of Don Cheadle’s faux-wistful speech from Crash: “In LA, nobody touches you. … I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.” In A.O. Scott’s Times review of the film, he’d wondered about a possible name for the genre Crash typified: stories “where people from radically different backgrounds are brought together by a grim serendipity that forces them, or at least the audience, to acknowledge their essential connectedness.” I find myself wishing Scott had settled on a term for the genre, because Vagabond Dog’s Always Sometimes Monsters is it, whatever “it” is.
Always Sometimes Monsters is full of strange people who wax philosophic to those they’ve just met. People who commit felonies to avoid minor inconveniences, and who constantly vacillate between righteous empathy and callous disregard for their fellow man. One of those people is you, a failed writer and failed lover who has received an unexpected wedding invitation from your ex. The particulars of that relationship are flexible, dictated from player to game by a simple choice of drinks at a party. It’s an elegant character select system in disguise, wherein personal qualities like gender, race, and sexual preference are never made to suffer the crass fumbling of sliders and toggles. Always Sometimes Monsters has been lauded for this–and rightly so–but it botches the landing: while the selection of male characters runs the full gamut of body types, the available women range from the impossibly cute to the improbably endowed. The latter cup their breasts between their biceps suggestively, or rest them over a bit of forearm scaffolding.