"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
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