Storytelling (2001) dir. Todd Solondz
Starring Selma Blair, Paul Giamatti, John Goodman
Guest review by Blair Stewart
Todd Solondz, agent-provocateur of American cinema, followed up the success of "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Happiness" with "Storytelling", his least regarded and most revealing work. Split into two parts of 'Fiction' and 'Non Fiction', Solondz uses taboo subjects of society as target practice before pointing the gun at himself.
In the brief chapter, "Fiction", Selma Blair plays Vi, a weak college student taught by a black teacher who's moral straight-jacket leads her to a night of unpleasant sex. Using this experience as writing fodder, she's further humiliated when her work is picked apart in class after a reading - possibly the sensation that a filmmaker has upon releasing a film into the open waters of public criticism.
Robert Wisdom is great as the predatory Mr. Scott, with brave work by Blair and an unrecognizable Leo Fitzpatrick as Vi's cerebral palsy inflicted boyfriend. The theme of this section is an attack on political correctness, with the creative writing classroom a Greek chorus of stupidity in public mores to tweak the audience. In a reoccurring conceit of the director's work, "Fiction" ends on a darkly funny punchline like a slap to the face.
In the longer chapter, "Non Fiction", Paul Giamatti shlubs it up as Solondz's alter ego Toby Oxman, an awkward documentarian making a film on the zeitgeist of adolescent slackers including Jersey suburbanite Scooby (Mark Webber). Beyond his listless subject Toby finds a goldmine of material in Scooby's family, with John Goodman channeling his old Walter Sobchak bit as Dad and Scooby's adorable, possibly sociopathic, younger brother Mikey (Jonathan Osser). Mikey will go and wander off into an excellent plot detour which pays off darkly when he takes an interest in the life of the long suffering Salvadorian maid.
The self-awareness of Solondz's reputation as both a commentator on middle-class values and a geek-show enthusiast is explored in this section. In a key moment, as Toby is questioned about his integrity towards the filmed subjects, he unconvincingly blurts out 'But I love them!" As the ambiguity of Toby as Solondz 'love' for his subjects lingers, the film also takes a moment for an unsubtle nut shot at the pretentious "American Beauty".
In the scenes devoted to Scooby's blooming sexuality and the secret pacts between brothers Solondz shows his evolving tenderness, something which would continue into next film "Palindromes". These moments elevate "Storytelling" from a marginally amusing black-humoured shooting gallery to something more meaningful. And the soundtrack by Scottish kings of twee-rock Belle and Sebastian provides a nice counterbalance to the plastic and dinnerware surroundings of the film.
His next project is a possible sequel to "Happiness" called "Forgivness", which after viewing is a title I hope won't be meant ironically. Enjoy.