Storytelling (2002)
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Review Date: March 07, 2002
Director: Todd Solondz
Writer: Todd Solondz
Producers: Ted Hope, Christine Vachon
Selma Blair as Vi
Robert Wisdom as Mr. Scott
John Goodman as Marty Livingston
There are two separate stories in this movie. The first one is called "Fiction" featuring a female college student who stops dating a classmate with cerebral palsy and ends up in a one-nighter with her black schoolteacher. The second is called "Non-Fiction" and features a nerdy adult documentarian following a lethargic young man and his family around with a camera, as the kid readies himself for college.
It's funny how a quote from my own review of Todd Solondz's last picture, HAPPINESS, pretty much applies to this film as well, only in this case, I actually enjoyed the film for the most part. I had said, "...it pretends to be something terribly insightful and revealing, when really it's just boring and obviously shocking." Although not "boring" this time around, Solondz once again tries to push the taboo envelope (a black teacher screws one of his white students from behind and asks her to call him the "N" word...classy!) and flies above it all with mucho pretension. Being as this film is actually two different stories, let me take a shot at each one separately.

The first story, which is actually too short but still quite interesting, is unpredictable and features some great acting by Selma Blair, and an astoundingly "cool" character played to the tee by Robert Wisdom. This guy oozes cool! There one particular scene between the two characters (as mentioned above), which is probably going to be one of the more memorable and shocking scenes in any movie this year. What Solondz was trying to "say" with that scene is beyond me (incidentally, the scene was apparently blocked by Solondz himself with a red block in the States (damn MPAA ratings board), but being in Canada, I got to see the entire doggie-style exhibition), but it stuck out in my mind and kept me on my toes throughout, which is always cool as a viewer. I also liked how they played the whole story as non-fiction and integrated it into the fiction workshop. Neat. The tale also includes one of the funnier monologues of the year, featuring the super-cool Wisdom character verbally assassinating a student in his classroom, about the utter incompetence of his work. I don't think I've ever heard anyone break someone down so coldly. Nasty stuff! Solondz also seems to be poking a little fun at his own pretentiousness (at least I hope that's what he was doing) and I gotta respect that on some level (although he still seems to be taking the "easy" taboo route to make many of his points, which is still kinda sad- this guy and Larry Clark should open a production house together...call it "Pervs Making Film" or something).

The second story was also pretty interesting at first glance, with an extremely embarrassing phone call starting things off (the sad part is that as much as the dude making the call is a loser beyond words, we can all sort of relate to his feeble nature, even if it is on a much more miniscule level), but it ultimately runs a little too long and the main character of Scooby, is really too apathetic for us to be engaged by throughout. I did like the pathetic documentarian though (Solondz working out more of his own youthful angst through him?) and his equally pitiable plight to get people to pay attention to him, even as an adult (like Solondz with his own films?). I also enjoyed the entire dysfunctional family routine (although "dysfunctional" may be too "mild" a term for these freaks), the sitcom laughs and the musical scene transitions. The annoying young brat in this story was also appealing at first, conveying a lot of the black/white subtext of the issues, but for some reason, he turns downright diabolical near the end of the film, and ultimately, unbelievable. Franka Potente also shows up in a wasted cameo, Conan O'Brien has fun with his small appearance, and apparently James Van Der Beek's entire gay sex scene was removed from the film in a third story (DVD perhaps?). An okay story with quite a few laughs, but cutting it and adding a third story would have likely been more effective.

Overall, both stories were a major improvement over the uber-pretentious and obviously taboo-for-the-sake-of-being-taboo HAPPINESS, which was lauded with praise by critics world round. But since I love movies and am always willing to give folks another shot, I'm glad that I saw this film since it was definitely one of the more unique pictures that I've seen so far this year. I also liked its kooky score, the directing style and even though I didn't think much about the underlying themes in either story afterwards, it goes without saying that you can spend many coffee-shop hours analyzing these stories until the cows come home. Not a classic by any means, still pretentious and filled with subtext, but entertaining enough at "face value" to recommend to anyone looking for something different. Of course, if you're looking for mainstream entertainment...keep on walking to the next aisle that says "all welcome here".
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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