Brent Marchant December 25, 2023 at 8:08 am by Brent Marchant
It’s frustrating to watch a much-anticipated movie that doesn’t quite live up to expectations. Such is the case with writer-director Cord Jefferson’s debut feature. The problem here is that the film tries to tell two stories in one picture, one that it does brilliantly and one that could use some serious trimming, because the inclusion of its segments interrupts the flow every time it comes up during the course of the narrative. This tale of a talented but commercially unsuccessful African-American author (Jeffrey Wright) laments the success of a younger peer (Issa Rae) who writes a best-selling “Black” book that he sees as little more than market-pandering rubbish. However, in response, when he does the same under a pseudonym as a means of protest, he becomes an overnight sensation for all of the artistic and readership considerations that he personally despises. He now has to ask himself how can live with that kind of success, especially when the title becomes a runaway juggernaut. As he struggles with this, he’s also faced with a family drama with the death of a relative, managing the future of care for his Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother (Leslie Uggams) and a ne’er-do-well, self-centered sibling who’s reluctant to help out (Sterling K. Brown). Unfortunately, the domestic story thread is overlong and tends to bog down the satirical social commentary/personal integrity aspects of the picture, which are really strong enough to stand on their own and should have been given wider play (fault the screenplay here). Despite its shortcomings, however, “American Fiction” definitely deserves kudos for the performances of its ensemble cast, especially Wright, who turns in his best work here and has garnered a number of awards season nominations already, with more undoubtedly to come. In all, though, this feels like an offering that’s half-baked for what it serves up, which is regrettable, given that, with some shoring up in the writing, this easily could have become a modern screen classic.
CinemaSerf February 8, 2024 at 7:07 pm by CinemaSerf
Jeffrey Wright is great in this satirical look at all things hypocritical and exploitative surrounding "blackness" in the USA. "Monk" is the short-tempered writer-cum-lecturer whose behaviour gets him put on indefinite leave by his university and sent to Boston! That's where his family live and where we get our first introduction to his sister "Lisa" (Tracee Ellis Ross). Now she's got the measure of her curmudgeonly brother and as they spar we start to see elements of his deeply-buried humanity emerge. Maybe he's not the man we first thought, and that depth of character becomes more evident as we meet his mother whose Alzheimers is causing confusion and distress. A tragedy strikes which forces "Monk" to re-address his own life choices, his relationship with his recently gay brother "Cliff" (Sterling K. Brown) and of his need to raise the almost $7,000 per month it will cost to ensure the best care for their ailing parent. His latest attempt at getting published failed. His agent "Arthur" (John Ortiz) telling him that his books just weren't black enough. He must be more like "Sintara" (Issa Rae) who writes books about 'real' African American people and their stereotypical ghetto language and experiences. He loathes the very essence of stuff like this, and so - in a fit of pique - cobbles together a novel called "Pafology" which he disdainfully sends off. To his bemused disgust, he is offered a lucrative seven figure sum - useful for the medical bills - and then, even more to his chagrin he meets film producer "Wiley" (Adam Brody) who wants to pay through the nose for the screen rights! Conflicted or what? He needs to look after his mother but his principles are abhorred by what he sees as a selling out. This scenario is only made the more ridiculous when he is asked to judge a prestigious literary award - and his now renamed best-seller is nominated! Cord Jefferson uses the brother's storyline as an engaging diversion - a broke plastic surgeon recently divorced and coming to his homosexuality late, but enthusiastically, in life. There's also his neighbour "Coraline" (Erika Alexander) to whom he takes a reciprocated shine - but can he make that work? It's genuinely laugh out loud at times as we see the frustrations of this man play out. It swipes at the superciliousness of an industry that is essentially not about culture or tradition: it's all about money and perception. The shallow things he despises. Will he come clean? Can he actually grow up a bit, too? Well that's skilfully dealt with in the gem of an ending! This is a cleverly conducted and innovative film that provokes thought and laughter in equal measure and showcases a talented ensemble effort well.