A film by Todd Solondz

Exploit this.


Review by Jade Sharma


Todd Solondz, who is known for his controversial innovative films dealing with subjects usually ignored by Hollywood, has perhaps reached his creative demise. In "Storytelling" Solondz contemplates the themes of exploitation and artistic truths.



There is no doubt that the film was Solondz's comment and struggle with the criticisms his own films have received in the past being as they always are about the banality of suburban life.



The film is in two parts: Fiction and Nonfiction. In the first part, a young white female student, Vi (played by Selma Blair) is dumped by her cerebral palsy stricken boyfriend (Leo Fitzpatrick, "Kids") and becomes sexually involved with her black professor (brilliantly acted by Robert Wisdom). In an ingenious scene, showing Vi having anal sex with her professor, Solondz blocks the act with a rectangular red box. This chancy decision on the part of Solondz was one of the few aspects of the film that managed to successfully critique both the film industry and its standards of on screen appropriate images and also work as a comical device. During the act, the professor demands Vi repeatedly scream, "Nigger, fuck me" another testing of the critical waters which Solondz has been acclaimed for in the past. Afterwards, Vi, brings to class a poorly disguised account of the experience, which is met by her classmates with assaulting disapproval. The students accuse her of being racist, misogynistic, and unrealistic. The professor savagely criticizes the story leaving Vi to awkwardly state that the story was true.



The first part of the film, though only nearly half as long as the second part, was pure Solodnz -- incorporating his subversive humor with captivating characters. The acting was flawless, the structure of the story was strong, and the characters were well-developed and clearly motivated. The last line of this part of the film, the professor tells Vi the only redeeming quality of her story was that it had a beginning, middle and an end. Sadly, the second part goes to show this can not be said of Soldonz's film.



The second part entitled, Nonfiction, is much longer and far more problematic. The story is a portrait of a wealthy family living in New Jersey. Scooby, the eldest child of the Livingston family, is an apathetic stoner refusing his father's wishes to attend college and aspires only to be a t.v.side-kick on a talk show. Toby, a thirty something loser, who works at a shoe store decides he wants to make a documentary about teenagers in America. He stumbles upon Scooby in the bathroom who quickly agrees to be in Toby's documentary. There are two on-going story lines; one involving the family and the other is of Toby's struggles about morals and ethics while making his documentary. Though Toby is shown to genuinely care for his characters, when it is finally screened the audience screams with condescending laughter.



The most interesting parts of the second section were Solondz's portrayal of the dynamics of the suburban family. There's a scene in which the family is having dinner. The son says he must write a paper on the survivors of the Holocaust and asks his parents if they know any. The mother comments that the way she thinks of it since their grandfather left Germany to escaped the Nazi regime she believes them all to be survivors. Scooby, the eldest child, contemplates this and then replies, "So, if it wasn't for Hitler we would have never been born?" This sends the father into a rage and demands Scooby leave the table. This is the kind of quirky Soldonz flavor that was lost in this crippled film.



Solondz does a good job not only exploring the dynamics of family but also of portraying children as ignorant as well as innocent. The youngest Livingston child one night finds the maid crying in her room. When he asks her why, she responds in Spanish. The child flatly states, she must speak in English so he can understand. She tells the child that her grandson was put to death. The child contemplates this and then replies that perhaps it is a good thing because her grandson is bad, and all bad people should die. This kind of disconcerning oddly humorous interaction is an example of what should have been seen more throughout the film.



While I think the first part of this film met its potential on many levels while still in Soldonez style taking it beyond what we're used to, the second part fell miserable short. One of the main inciting incidents, in the second part, involves the demonizing youngest child of the Livingston family hypnotizing the father which leads the film from quirky and weird to hooky and lame.



All the elements that slightly worked in this film, all were much stronger and better suited in his earlier work. Visually, it was reminiscent of both his prior films, the shots were conventional and the music and lighting gave it a sitcom feel. The visual and musical elements which lends a very clean and suburban feel to his films is juxtaposed with the crude vulgar and subversive nature of the dialog and situations. This is where Soldonz's talent as a film maker lies. We see that here in parts, but it is not enough to carry the film.



This movie has the feeling of a notebook filled with half-interesting ideas. It is evident that Solondz was experimenting far beyond his other films in terms of structure. But for those of us familiar with Solondz's work it is clear that it failed. It appears he has become absorbed with his own insecurities and the criticisms his prior films have received then on making a good film.



This film has the feeling of being written in a night. When the movie ended, my first thought was, "This is it? Where's the rest of the movie?" When I found out that the movie had a big chunk taken out, I wondered if perhaps with that chunk left the story as well and what remained was nothing less then a chain of events tied loosely together with a bit of humor and shock value. It's a shame that Solondz, once his film was savagely edited didn't stop its release and take the time or effort t to try to make a full length story with a cohesive body -- it may have been worth watching. Instead, he opted to release this half-assed damaged film with many flaws and few captivating characters. It's a damn shame, is what it is.