Storytelling

Directed by Todd Solondz
Starring: Selma Blair, Leo Fitzpatrick, Robert Wisdom, Mark Webber, Paul Giamatti, John Goodman, Julie Hagerty, Jonathan Osser, Noah Fleiss, Lupe Ontiveros, Franka Potente, Mike Schank.
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, language and some drug use.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
Febraury 28, 2002

Among all the Hollywood refuse at the theatres now -- films that weren't good enough to compete in December -- there are a few good independents out there just trying to get heard. Todd Solondz (Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse) is one of them, and we can always expect something new and provocative from this oddly fascinating filmmaker. His latest film, Storytelling, continues his streak of off-the-wall brilliance.

Actually, this isn't a new feature film, but two shorts strung together -- the first one being a long short, and the second more of a short feature. The first is titled Fiction. It takes place on a college campus where Vi (Selma Blair) and her boyfriend with cerebral palsy, Marcus (Leo Fitzpatrick, from Kids), are taking a creative writing course with Mr. Scott (Robert Wisdom). Marcus reads his latest story aloud to the class and is met with patronizing enthusiasm from his classmates. Mr. Scott speaks his mind instead, calling Marcus on his cliché sentimentality. The honesty causes a riff between Vi and Marcus, and she goes looking for something new with Mr. Scott, which turns out to be more than she can handle.

The second part is titled Non-fiction, and is completely unrelated to the first, except for the general "storytelling" theme. Paul Giamatti plays a struggling independent filmmaker who wants to make a documentary about suburban high school students and how they see their future. He chooses Scooby Livingston (Mark Webber) as his main subject, and films his life at school and at home. What Scooby and the rest of the Livingston family don't know is that the film is exploiting them for comedic purposes, much like the subjects of American Movie.

Of course, in the universe of Non-fiction, there is no American Movie, only American Scooby. This is apparent because one of the actual subjects of American Movie, Mike Schank, plays Giamatti's cameraman/roommate Mike (appropriately enough). Schank's friend and the main focus of American Movie, Mark Borchardt, was also in the credits under "Special Thanks". As usual, it's difficult to see what Solondz' point of view is -- whether he's damning American Movie or simply satirizing it for fun. His ideas of what is "fun" or "comedy" don't necessarily mesh with most people, but that's why he's an artist. Seeing Solondz' version of the world is always a special treat, even if it does leave a weird taste in your mouth.

As I said, his main objective with this film is to explore the concept of storytelling, both in how we use our own experiences to create something new (Fiction) and in how we take reality and shape it to show our perspective (Non-fiction). Solondz isn't really a "message" filmmaker, but if there was a message it's that when people relate a story, its veracity is arbitrary; that is, it doesn't matter what you say, but how you say it.

Anyway, that's one way of looking at the film. It is quite funny, but probably not for everybody. Some people will definitely be turned off by it. Some scenes -- like the one where a sex scene is blocked out by a giant red rectangle à la Eyes Wide Shut -- may cause both laughter and repulsion. At least it makes you feel something, unlike most of the films playing at the mall.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Storytelling (2001)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Storytelling, a screenplay by Todd Solondz -- Paperback
Storytelling: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc


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Review © 2002 Matt Heffernan