AMERICAN FICTION (2023)
Release Date: 12/22/23 [Cinemas]
Genre: Comedy. Drama.
"A novelist who's fed up with the establishment profiting from "Black" entertainment uses a pen name to write a book that propels him to the heart of hypocrisy and the madness he claims to disdain."
OUR MOVIE REVIEW:
The Toronto International Film Festival stands as one of the largest in the world, serving as a significant launchpad for both Oscar hopefuls and films that resonate with a broad audience. The People’s Choice Award, in particular, swiftly propels the winner into the Oscar conversation and Best Picture consideration. This year, while many anticipated the award to go to Academy favorite Alexander Payne for his film The Holdovers, which had already garnered attention for the upcoming awards season, it was a surprise when newcomer Cord Jefferson clinched the prize with his debut film, American Fiction. Immediately, buzz surrounding the film circulated, propelling it into discussions about potential awards across various categories.
Characterized by sharp dialogue, a compelling performance from industry veteran Jeffrey Wright, and broad appeal, American Fiction emerges as a formidable contender in numerous award categories. As a satirical comedy/drama, the film provides a thought-provoking commentary on the black experience within the cultural zeitgeist, particularly in the realms of professional creativity and how one's work is received.
Thelonious "Monk" Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is a struggling author facing challenges in getting his work published. Frustrated by the industry's reluctance to categorize his writing as simply "fiction" and instead labeling it specifically as "black fiction" due to his race, he becomes increasingly disheartened. This frustration deepens when publishers not only categorize his work as such but also provide feedback indicating a preference for more "authentic" black stories.
Following a book conference where a fellow black author gains widespread acclaim for a recently published book characterized by broken language and a gargantuan African American dialect, reminiscent of Precious, Monk decides to respond with his own satirical blacksploitation novel. However, when publishers take his work seriously, Monk finds himself entangled in a spiral of increasingly complex scenarios that he must navigate, all while grappling with the guilt associated with the potential negative impact of his work.
Centered on the theme of authors and their work, it's unsurprising that the screenplay stands out as a highlight in this film. Director and writer Cord Jefferson, known for his work on acclaimed series like Master of None, The Good Place, and Succession, brings his TV writing expertise to the big screen. The dialogue is exceptionally sharp and witty, yet it allows ample breathing room for the audience to enjoy without disrupting the film's pace. While I think there are some narrative elements that could have been refined or omitted for a smoother flow, they only serve as a minor distraction and have minimal impact on the overall experience.
The film's standout feature lies in its exploration of the theme centered around the black experience. Impressively self-aware, it directly addresses the prevalent issue of stereotypical portrayals of black stories in the media, highlighting the limited perspective often presented of what it means to be a black person in America. The film offers a refreshing departure from the norm, presenting a "normal" story Hollywood typically reserved for white actors, and instead features black actors. This choice effectively challenges the notion that "black stories" must conform to a narrow or stereotypical lens. The film effortlessly maintains a balance, capturing the essence of black normalcy while authentically portraying the diverse experiences within the black community.
The ensemble cast delivers stellar performances as well. Sterling K. Brown takes a different turn than anything previously seen from him, portraying a character with depth and comedy in a seamless balance. In the role of the cynical lead, Jeffrey Wright effortlessly commands the feature. This marks one of the few leading roles I've witnessed him in, and it's immensely rewarding to see such a seasoned actor, known for years in supporting roles, finally taking the helm as a lead. Wright undeniably justifies his capacity to handle such a role adeptly. His performance is already gaining awards recognition, recently earning nominations for a Golden Globe Award and a Critics Choice Award, both in the Best Actor category. This momentum could very well propel him towards his long-deserved first Oscar nomination.
American Fiction stands out as one of the best films of the year, adding some thematic relevance to this year’s slate. While the narrative unfolds through a black lens, its broad applicability makes it enjoyable for a diverse audience. The robust screenplay and thought-provoking themes blend seamlessly, offering a mix of casual viewing and a lasting impact. Despite Cord Jefferson's directorial debut needing some refinement, it remains among the top movies gracing theaters this holiday season—perfect for older families seeking a cinematic outing.