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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

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows ---
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Filming in the same satiric mode that informed his wonderfully mocking film "Happiness," Todd Solondz comes through for the most part once again with a pair of stories which are related thematically but are otherwise wholly independent of each other. Proving the Bard's contention that brevity is the soul of wit, Mr. Solondz's first tale, called "Fiction," is far superior to his closing yarn, "Non-Fiction," given its tight editing, superlative acting, and the writer-director's happy intention of not overstaying his welcome.

"Fiction," which features the protean Selma Blair (last seen in Dana Lustig's godawful "Kill Me Later" but more fortuitously in Robert Luketic's "Legally Blonde,") demolishes political correctness, staging the work on the campus of a small college. Blair performers in the role of Vi, a blond-haired, impressionable young woman with her mane dyed bright orange, who opens the movie with a hot sex scene. She is in bed with her current boyfriend and classmate Marcus (Leo Fitzpatrick), a guy who is afflicted with cerebral palsy and sits next to her in a creative writing class presided over by Mr. Scott (Robert Wisdom) a tall black instructor and Pulitzer-prize winner and a man who virtually ravages his charges with ego-bending lacerations. Approached in a bar by Vi, Mr. Scott invites her to his room, where the sober instructor teaches his student what she thought she learned well enough with her own boy friend.

"Fiction," which includes politically-incorrect allusions of at least the quality that got Bill Maher in trouble on TV, is an original--just when you thought you had imbibed all of Solondz's singularity from his "Happiness" and "Welcome to the Dollhouse." Taking aim at pretentious professors and sensual students alike, "Fiction" cleverly suggests that everything we seem to know about people from observing them in polite society is indeed fiction.

Part 2, the longer piece, is a mixed bag that starts off in as promising a way as its lead feature, but Solondz, in extending his conceit beyond the tenable, loses his handle on the material and ends the work on a contrived, unsatisfactory note. The forty-two year-old Newark-born director hones in on a family in his home state, using as a catalyst an unsuccessful New York shoe salesman named Toby Oxman (Paul Giamatti). Toby, who works in a Florsheim store but who has not yet given up his dream, is determined to become famous (though not rich) by producing a documentary about high school. What turns out is not as compelling as Fred Wiseman's masterwork on the subject but, as Solondz freely implies is meant as a sendup of not only suburban families but of pretentious movie-makers whose use of film- school techniques poses as art, impressing only those who get out to the theaters once a month. Toby's subject, Scooby Livingston (Mark Webber), is a stereotypically rich, pot-smoking teen, almost catatonic in his refusal to make plans for his future. His driven father, Marty (John Goodman) is on his case, occasionally chasing Scooby's brother Mikey (Jonathan Osser) from the table. Though the stage is set for revenge, Solondz shows some confusion about the kind of story he wants to tell. Is he making a post-Columbine statement about how stresses in the family unit lead to destruction, or is he interested in working out his own conflicts about the kinds of films he wants to make for his audience? He appears to use Toby (Todd?) as his alter ego, a man who cannot quite focus on what he wants to say--just as he cannot himself decide what he wants to send up--and the plot heads off in various directions ending with a strange, not- quite-motivated catastrophe.

"Storytelling," then, is well worth seeing--as is anything by this confrontational and gifted director, given its absolutely brilliant, taut opener and the laughs provided especially by John Goodman as a rich, demanding dad who is brought down by his tyrannical expectations.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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