MONICA & DAVID explores the marriage of two adults with Down syndrome and the family who strives to support their needs. Monica and David are blissfully in love and want what other adults have—an independent life. Full of humor, romance and everyday family drama, the film uses intimate fly-on-the wall footage to reveal the complexity of their story. While Monica and David are capable beyond expectations, their parents, aware of mainstream rejection of adults with intellectual disabilities, have trouble letting go.
Directed by Monica’s cousin, the film has a storybook beginning with a young couple full of hope and laughter. Just before the wedding, a self-assured Monica declares: “It’s all about him, and all about me. This is my day. It’s my life, to be with my husband forever”. By their side are two fearless mothers who realize a lifelong dream—a “normal” life for their adult children. Marriage for adults with Down syndrome is very unusual, in part because until recently people with Down lived short isolated lives. In 1983 life expectancy was 25, but today it is 60, with some people living into their 70s.
Although Monica and David’s love is never in question, the honeymoon slowly subsides as the realities of everyday life sink in. They prepare to move to a new apartment with her mother (Maria Elena) and adoptive father (Bob), disrupting the routine which Monica and David so rely on. In the midst of the chaos, David is diagnosed with diabetes and it seems that the couple will never be independent.
Throughout the story, Monica and David’s capacity is countered by their need for assistance, establishing a vague grey line between adult and child. But their parents will not always be around, and Monica and David are can handle adult responsibility when it’s allowed of them. Maria Elena has an epiphany moment, stating: “as parents, we want people to look upon our children with special needs like anyone else…And yet because we want to protect them so much, we are typically the first ones who treat them poorly by subconsciously denying them their rights to have a normal life.”
In the end, Monica and David are allowed to take the first steps towards a more independent life, and with Bob and Maria Elena’s help, begin to explore work opportunities. At a meeting at Best Buddies, an employment coordinator explains that: “ultimately, it’s about independence, independence with the support.”