by Dane Youssef
This is yet another "daring and provocative" little "taboo-breaking film" from writer/director Todd Solondz ("Welcome To The Dollhouse," "Happiness," "Fear, Anxiety & Depression," Schatt's Last Shot"), so anyone who picks t his one up should know what to expect. In fact, dollars to diamonds, you wouldn't even think about picking this one up unless you were a fan.
Like fellow contraversal filmmaker Neil LaBute, he likes to shed a great deal of light on the uglier, loathsome, unsavory side of humanity. Is he trying to illuminate us all by showing us the dark matter of our society? How our cold and evil nature may be our downfall? And all the damage it's doing? Or is Solondz more infactuated by these all-too realistic monsters and villains he puts up there on the screen?
Is this weird little man enamored by his loathsome creations? Is he celebrating this callous side of the human race or satirizing it? Normally, he leaves that to us, but althroughout "Storytelling," he seems to be trying to set the record straight.
For those who saw his heavily acclaimed (by critics and audiences alike) "Welcome To The Dollhouse" a movie about the hell almighty on earth that is junior high school.
I was not one of the film's many admirers.
Yes, I felt like just about everybody else that the film did have some poginant truths, but... I pretty much already knew them all. It all felt kinda redundant. I was in high school at the time and every scene I was watching, I thought, "Yeah, no shit" and "God, these people are ass-holes and idiots."
I mean, I know it's supposed to be a satire, but I felt too much like I was watching what I already knew and thought and what has been said too many times before. Solondz was preaching to the wrong choir there.
His next fim, "Happiness" about three sisters and their lives... and how adulthood is more or less as mentally unbalanced as junior high school. About three sisters and how their lives aren't as well-adjusted as they seem. The seemingly ideal perfect sister is dry, secretly dull and lives such a sterile life that when an obscene phone caller calls her... she starts stalking him.
The best line in the movie "Happiness"... that almost encapsulates the entire film:
Helen Jordan: "I'm not laughing at you, I'm laughing with you."
Joy Jordan: "But I'm not laughing."
The film is about two different forms of storytelling: Two seperate chapters, "Fiction" and "Non-Fiction."
"Fiction" is a surprisingly short one. It's about the creative writing process, and it takes place in a creative writing class. Many of the main characters are all writing short stories, most of which are autobiographical.
A woman who has writing aspirations and her cerebal-palsy girlfriend with the same. Her name is Vi, and she breaks up with her boyfriend after his obviously autobiographical story is panned horribly by the school teacher who dismisses it first very crudely and then gets more elaborate.
He especially takes some kind of pleasure in attacking the title: "The Rawness of Truth."
It's the kind of story that leaves you thinking, "Wow, is that in dire need of a rewrite."
Pretty much the whole class warms up to it... except for the star pupil/teacher's pet... and the teacher himself, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author of a novel entitled, "A Sunday Lynching."
Marcus (Vi's boyfriend) is furious with her for not giving it to him straight. Marcus' "Rawness" is about how Vi gave him confidence and made him feel, as he puts it in his story... "completely cerebal."
Vi, stricken, gets hammered, lights up and...
The professor has a poetic line about the writing process that rings incredibly true: "Whenever you write... it all becomes fiction."
After the first story ("Fiction") in the film ends, you can't get but the feeling that although something horrible and tragic has happened, perhaps it was necessary. And after they take it all in, let in all sink in, lick their wounds, let some time pass... maybe they'll be ready to take the next step.
"Non-Fiction" is about most likely Solondz experience as director and the whole documentary experience. Often at times, those documentarians seem to be roasting and attacking their subjects with great anger and fury... but are they just trying to get heat for their film... or is that how they really see it?
Who knows? Many artists are former victims, grown children with bad experiences and hell-bent on vengeance. "Non-Fiction" revolves around the exploits of a documentarian filmmaker and his desire to make a documentary about teenagers and what they're feeling now.
Have things changed much? Drugs... suicidal feelings... self-loathing... loathing of the world around them... of the way society treats them, pressures them, conforms them and disposes of them... how do teenagers put up with it? What's ahead? Mark Webber is Scooby Livingston, a depressed and moody teenager who's completely lost and like many teenagers, his all-purpose requests to every queston is "I don't know," "I really don't care" and "Whatever."
He always seems deep in thought and in need of answers. He has big goal aspirations... but no idea whatsoever as how to attain them. When asked how he plans to attain his dreams of stardom, he answers: "I don't know, see if I have any connections... whatever..." After a meet-strange with a documentarian named Toby, both seem to think the other may be exactly what they're looking for and maybe their seemingly unobtainable dreams might have a chance of coming true after all.
The family is not enthusiastic about the whole thing... especially the father who doesn't want the family's dirty laundry to be aired out. But after some hard questions and earnest promises, he agrees.
No family wants to be exploited... and this family certainly would provide more than enough of such material. I think the boy represents Solondz as a young teenager (Solondz himself is also a vegetarian) and of course, Giamatti as Toby is Solondz as a filmmaker (Solondz dresses up Giamatti to look exactly like him).
There's pressure all around from every angle and sadly, no way out in sight. College doesn't sound appealing and there has to be a place for Scooby. Since Scooby grew up to be Solondz himself (we can only assume), there must be hope.
But I think Scooby represents all teenagers. He reflects not our generation, but that paticular case, that type. That unfortunate type.
God, how many teens are there out there EXACTLY like Scooby? Actually, I think he represents the teens who are more depressed, desolate and lost. The ones who are always feeling lost... swimming against the tides, always feeling trapped with a feeling of hopelessness.
If you've ever seen a Solondz movie, you really do know what to expect.
Like all of his other efforts, this is about how ugliness and unsettling rage lives in middle class suburbia. You can't watch this movie, see and hear some of these people and not think of someone you know or have met or seen randomly on the street.
Solondz is from Suburbia, New Jersey and is talking about what's going on there.
I like how he talks about things that most movies and people in real life shy away from. He wants to critisize, satirize and get you to ask yourself...
"How many people are really like this? And... is there hope for us? How many of these people exist... and more importantly, are they in our neghiborhood? Not many... hopefully."
Like all of Solondz films, people will either be mesmerized by it or despise it, but it's a movie that many should see.
Perhaps a movie for cynical teenagers and aspiring storytellers. Just know what you're getting into.
Hey, when's the next one coming out? When's your next flick coming out already, Todd? I'm getting antsy.
--For The Endless Pursuit of...You Know, Dane Youssef
SPECIAL NOTE: For all you big Solondz fans out there (we're a cult more than anything else), check out my biography on writer/director Todd Solondz at IMDb and FILMSPOT.