American Fiction

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

American Fiction
dir-scr Cord Jefferson
prd Ben LeClair, Nikos Karamigios,Cord Jefferson, Jermaine Johnson
with Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, Sterling K Brown, John Ortiz, Erika Alexander, Leslie Uggams, Issa Rae, Adam Brody, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Raymond Anthony Thomas, Keith David, Miriam Shor
release US 15.Dec.23,
UK 2.Feb.24
23/US MGM 1h57

ross brown rae
afi fest

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Pointed and hilarious, this comedy takes on the current wave of political correctness with merciless glee. The clever script has some wicked fun with a society in which most people are pretending to be someone they aren't, and the characters are wonderfully quirky, clashing with each other in engaging ways. Writer-director Cord Jefferson tells this story with a skilfully knowing tone that adds ripples of depth to each scene.
Fed up with his fragile, easily offended students, university professor Monk (Wright) travels to Boston to visit his family, not that he wants to see them either. Meanwhile, his publisher asks him to write an obviously "Black" novel like educated hotshot Sintara (Rae), whose new book is titled We's Lives in Da Ghetto. At home, Monk finds himself in the middle of family issues with feisty sister Lisa (Ross), combative newly single brother Cliff (Brown) and their mother Agnes (Uggams). In frustration, he writes a cliched urban novel, and of course it becomes a sensation.
As Monk writes his book, the characters come to life around him in all their hilariously hackneyed glory. Cleverly, these pale in comparison to the appalling attempts by mainstream media to nod to Black culture. Even more pointed is a Hollywood producer (Brody) who thinks he's street because he spend a month in jail. And to add to the insults, Monk is on a book competition jury with Sintara. Through all of this, even as Monk is creating this fake alter-ego, his real life is becoming more authentic.

Performances have a wry honesty to them, grounding the film's broader strokes in earthy emotion. Wright is excellent as the exasperated Monk, whose role-playing as a tough guy creates problems with his new girlfriend Coraline (Alexander). The people around him are just as messy, allowing the superbly likeable actors to find unexpected textures. The scene-stealer is Brown, whose just-out Cliff delights in upending everyone around him.

One of the most salient points here is that the people with the money are idiots, creating a spiral that dumbs down everyone. This is a lacerating comment on art that critics and high society call important, noting that perhaps there's a need to take a deeper look. The question is if this kind of work actually perpetuates stereotypes rather than challenging them. And the important point here is that Black artists are speaking to life in general, not just a subculture.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 24.Nov.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall