Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

"American Fiction" Review

Let's not bury the lede here: Of the six 2024 Best Picture nominees I've seen so far (see update below), American Fiction is the one I would vote for if I could. After so much absolute garbage that has been lauded by the Academy for too long - though to be fair the last five Best Picture winners would've been my votes, but that doesn't mean I thought they were all classic movies - it's the first one I would've had nearly no reservations about. Of course it won't win a damn thing, most likely. Shame.

Nominated for Best Picture, Actor (Jeffrey Wright), Supporting Actor (Sterling K. Brown), Adapted Screenplay (Cord Jefferson), and Score (Laura Karpman), American Fiction (bland title aside) is a movie that I frankly can't believe exists because it punches hard to the Left at the condescension of liberal elites towards black people, a feat that's doubly surprising considering writer-director Jefferson is a former journalist for liberal trash sites like the Huffington Post and Gawker. But unlike overpopular agitprop like Barbie, it grinds its axes with precision and purpose.

Wright stars as Thelonious "Monk" Ellison, an author and college professor in Los Angeles who we meet coping with a triggered snowflake white student with green hair offended that he had written a book title on the board with the N-word in it. Her po' widdle feewings were hurtied at having to see the word while in class and Monk has zero tolerance for her childish tantrum saying if he can deal with it as a black man, so can she. She can't even.

She stomps out of class and the school tells him to take some time off and go to a scheduled book fair appearance in Boston, where he's originally from and in not much of a mood to see his family. His panel was poorly attended because it was scheduled across from an reading by Sintara Golden (Issa Rae) where she talks about her career after graduating from snooty liberal arts college Oberlin and quickly landing a job at a New York publishing house then reads from her best-selling book We's Lives in Da Ghetto, which is nothing but the lowest stereotypical rendition of Ebonics-speaking ghetto folk.

Monk is disgusted by how well received such tripe is especially since his latest book has been rejected for not being "black" enough. This ghettoization of his work is illustrated by a scene where he goes to a chain bookstore looking for his books and finds them not in the Mythology section, but in the African-American Studies section even though they have nothing to do with that field.

 As for his personal life, he is first hit by the sudden death of his physician sister, Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross), then the realization that his mother, Agnes (Leslie Uggams), is beginning to have Alzheimer's. His plastic surgeon brother, Cliff (Brown), is ill-equipped to help with her care because he lives in Tuscon and financially strapped after a messy divorce in the wake of his wife catching him in bed with a man.

Frustrated by the dumbed-down nature of literature and financially squeezed by Agnes' care bills, he decides to write a super black novel called My Pafology (sic) filled with drugs, fatherless men, gang violence, Ebonics - all the things publishers want. His agent, Arthur (John Ortiz), is terrified by Monk's joke, but agrees to send it out under his pseudonym of Stagg R. Leigh (after the folk song "Stagger Lee"). Since this is the kind of movie this is, it immediately sells for $750,000 and millions more in film rights are in the offing.

Since Monk is already a published author and this is a gag that's gotten out of hand, he and Arthur construct the excuse that Stagg is a fugitive and thus most remain in hiding. Naturally, this only ups his mystique with the promo people on phone calls as as the erudite Monk struggles to sound street enough to maintain the ruse, not that these upper class twits could tell the difference, eagerly agreeing to his demand that the book be retitled Fuck.

And as a cherry on the top, Monk is asked to be a judge for New England Book Association's Literary Award only to find that his publisher has submitted Fuck to the competition and Sintara Golden is also a judge as part of the diversity emphasis along with the three white members of the panel. So Monk is judging a book he wrote as a reaction to what his fellow judge was cashing in on. Hijinks ensue!

What makes American Fiction ironically depressing is that it portrays something so alien to movies: Educated upper-middle class black professionals with messy family lives almost completely divorced from racial issues. (Television had The Cosby Show and Black-ish, which I guess was about trying to retain "black identity" - whatever that is - living amongst white people which isn't exactly like being a 1st Century Christian under Roman rule.) The family patriarch was a doctor, Monk's siblings are doctors making him the outcast for being an author/professor, the family home is a massive three-story house with a swimming pool and a housekeeper, Lorraine (Myra Lucretia Taylor), and they have a beach house where Monk makes the acquaintance of the divorced lawyer, Coraline (Erika Alexander) across the street. The only hood for these folks are on their hoodies and isn't it sad that a movie about people who are black as opposed to Black People is so novel?

If there's one word which sums up American Fiction it would be authenticity, specifically the characters struggles to be true to themselves in a world which may have other ideas about how people should be based on their color or sexual preference. This clicked when Monk and Cliff discuss whether their father knew if the latter was gay. Cliff says he wished he could've told his father before he died. But what if he rejected you, asks Monk, to which Cliff replies that at least he would've hated me for what I really was.

 Monk is trapped in a situation of his own making where he tried to show up those who were demanding he deny his true self thus forcing a reckoning of how important is being true to one's self when there's a big pile of money waiting for those who play the game? This leads to a somewhat predictable conclusion as the meta joke somewhat stumbles on the landing, but it's not fatal and has it's own ironic charm.

Rooting the proceedings is Wright's tightly wound simmering performance as Monk. He's a serious man in an unserious world and while he's not a misanthrope, you get that he could be hard to love or live with. The friction with his family isn't overblown, but realistic for relatable reasons. He can be prickly, but he's not as off-putting as someone like Paul Giammati's teacher in The Holdovers, but while he bristles at being judged superficially, he's not above looking down his nose at other's tastes to his detriment.

 I've been a fan of Jeffrey Wright since his first starring role in Basquiat in 1996, several years before he caught more mainstream critics eyes as Peoples in 2000's Samuel L. Jackson topped Shaft (which also co-starred Christian Bale the same year he blew up with American Psycho). But despite having prominent supporting roles in the Daniel Craig James Bond films as Felix Leiter; Beetee in the three The Hunger Games sequels; HBO's Westworld series, and recently as Jim Gordon in The Batman, he's never really broken out and led a film and now that he's done so and snagged an Oscar nomination, hopefully he will get more opportunities.

 The rest of the cast is also top shelf, especially Brown who first popped on my radar in 2016's American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson playing Chris Darden right before everyone discovered him in This Is Us (which I never watched because I'm not an over-emotional suburban wine mom). He makes the most of his screen time delivering one of the biggest laughs in the movie (about drinking at 8 am) while portraying a man who is trying to live his truth (ugh, what a trite saying) as someone coming out in middle age and not always seeming happy being gay.

But none of the performances would've mattered if not for Jefferson's sharp screenplay adapted from Percival Everett's 2001 novel Erasure. By anchoring the satirical aspect of Monk's joke of a novel on the bedrock of a family drama it steers clear of being simplistic agitprop and racial grievance mongering. I normally don't approve of white people being lazily negatively portrayed (like how everyone Harold and Kumar meet on their odyssey to White Castle was a racist redneck), but here I'll allow it because it's the same sorts of folks as portrayed in Get Out who would've voted for Obama a third time getting shown up for their patronizing woke white liberal racism. I just hope that if he wins an Oscar for his script he doesn't immediately fall off like Jordan Peele has with everything since his smashing debut.

It's not often a movie comes along that really excites me intellectually, so (bland title aside; did you catch how many movies and shows use American in their titles?) American Fiction is a gift we should cherish and Cord Jefferson is a talent we must pray stays this sharp. Warm, funny, yet bitingly satirical, American Fiction is the triple truth, Ruth.

(Note: I'm finishing this review 20 days after viewing it and since the lede I've seen 9 of the 10 Best Pictures and my vote still stands. While the overrated Oppenheimer is going to win, breaking my streak of at least liking the winners, this is the best picture IMNSHO.)

Score: 9/10. Catch it on cable.


Post a Comment

DirkFlix. Copyright 2010-2015 Dirk Omnimedia Inc. All rights reserved.
Free WordPress Themes Presented by EZwpthemes.
Bloggerized by Miss Dothy