Storytelling

In what feels like a self-consciously reactive diatribe, writer-director Todd Solondz furthers his contentious relationship with insensitive viewers and critics who continue to miss the point with this typically provocative, two-part portmanteau picture. As the title suggests, the subject is storytelling; specifically, the problems the teller faces once...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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In what feels like a self-consciously reactive diatribe, writer-director Todd Solondz furthers his contentious relationship with insensitive viewers and critics who continue to miss the point with this typically provocative, two-part portmanteau picture. As the title suggests, the subject is storytelling; specifically, the problems the teller faces once the cord is cut and the story becomes audience property. In "Fiction," white college student Vi (Selma Blair) learns about intentional fallacy the hard way, when she turns a scary sexual encounter with her black writing professor (Robert Wisdom) into a short story. Her professor points out (not without some relief) that regardless of what she thinks is the truth of the matter, the minute Vi starts writing about it the incident becomes fiction and is subject to the ruthless criticism of her offended classmates, who regard Vi's "truth" as nothing more than misogynistic, phallocentric and racist fantasy. In "Nonfiction," aspiring documentarian Toby Oxman (Paul Giamatti, looking quite a bit like Solondz himself) attempts to capture the reality of contemporary teenage life by following sweet-natured slacker Scooby Livingston (Mark Webber) with a video camera. To the horror of his upwardly mobile, upper-middle class parents (John Goodman, Julie Hagerty), Scooby has few ambitions beyond getting high and perhaps becoming a late-night talk-show host, and his on-camera observations are often unintentionally hilarious. Toby's editor (Franka Potente) thinks Toby's making fun of his subject; Toby, hardly a man of personal conviction, suggests leaving it up to a test audience to decide. Ignored by both Toby's camera and the Livingston family is the real story: Scooby's youngest brother, Mikey (Jonathan Osser), a precocious fifth-grader whose heedlessly cruel treatment of the Livingston's Salvadorian housekeeper (the always wonderful Lupe Ontiveros) will eventually bring down the whole family. How this less-focused story ties into "Fiction" isn't entirely clear until the very end. The snarky laughter of Toby's test audience turns his bad sociological documentary, now titled "American Scooby," into a cruel comedy — clearly a dig at AMERICAN MOVIE (1999), Chris Price's hilarious documentary about a barely competent filmmaker whose sidekick, Mike Schank, plays Toby's cameraman. Neither Toby nor Vi nor Solondz, for that matter, has much control over how their art is received. The film is all a little Lit Crit 101, but it's extremely well played and often very funny. But beware: Solondz uses humor as a booby trap, so be careful what you laugh at.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: R
  • Review: In what feels like a self-consciously reactive diatribe, writer-director Todd Solondz furthers his contentious relationship with insensitive viewers and critics who continue to miss the point with this typically provocative, two-part portmanteau picture. A… (more)

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