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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Storytelling

Starring: Selma Blair, Mark Webber
Director: Todd Solondz
Rated: R
RunTime: 87 Minutes
Release Date: October 2001
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Leo Fitzpatrick, Robert Wisdom, Angela Goethals, Aleksa Palladino, Paul Giamatti, Xander Berkeley, Lupe Ontiveros, Julie Hagerty

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

"When you look at a film by Todd Solondz, you know that only he could make it," STORYTELLING's producer Ted Hope says quite accurately in the film's press notes. Comprised of two independent stories, the movie pushes the envelope in the ways that Solondz loves to do, purposely confusing his viewers in the process so that they're not quite sure how they're supposed to react. After WELCOME TO THE DOLL HOUSE and HAPPINESS, this is his third major film. It's a near miss but an intriguing picture nevertheless.

"You hardly even sweat anymore when we have sex," Marcus (Leo Fitzpatrick), a cerebral palsy victim complains to Vi (Selma Blair), his girlfriend and fellow student in a college creative writing class. "I was never much of a sweater," she replies. The first and shorter of the two stories, titled "Fiction," delves into issues of sex, racism and pretentious, bad writing. The most memorable part of it is the self-censored sex scene between Vi and her black teacher, Mr. Scott (Robert Wisdom). When the MPAA threatened to slap an unmarketable NC-17 rating on the picture because of the scene, Solondz responded by censoring it himself, placing a large red rectangle in post-production that covers the actors' bodies.

The second story, titled "Non-fiction," which concerns disaffected and disheartened New Jersey youth, is reminiscent of Solondz's first picture, WELCOME TO THE DOLL HOUSE. Toby Oxman (Paul Giamatti), a failed actor, failed law student and failed writer, who works as a shoe salesman, is making his first movie, a documentary about today's teens. As the subject of his movie, he chooses Scooby Livingston (Mark Webber), a stoner student with no ambition save a vague yearning to be a television talk show host like Conan O'Brien, who appears in a cameo. Scooby's seriously dysfunctional family consists of two overbearing, Jewish parents, Marty (John Goodman) and Fern (Julie Hagerty), a jock middle brother, Brady (Noah Fleiss), and a spoiled brat younger brother, Mikey (Jonathan Osser). The writing is sharp, but Solondz doesn't have anything new to say about unhappy families.

The result is two wry, dark comedies that are less than meets the eye.

STORYTELLING runs 1:27. It is rated R for "strong sexual content, language and some drug use" and would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes

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