Digital Review: “American Fiction”









American Fiction was a great time indeed. Without revealing too much, it was often hilarious whilst taking on some serious issues. It’s a different kind of film.

The kind of film which will hook you from its cracking opening dialogue – pre-credits – American Fiction has arguably been done a disservice by trailers and, indeed, reviews, which reveal far too much about a story that unfolds organically and expertly, and really needed no telegraphing, let alone descriptions that explain events that don’t happen until towards the start of the second act.


The story follows the character of Thelonious Ellison (everybody just calls him Monk) a struggling writer who has just been given a temporary leave for his blunt approach to racial “issues” in his classes, returning home to his ageing mum only to find her ailing health and requirements for medical care demanding the kind of money that zero book sales simply won’t cover. Taking a different approach to his work, Monk suddenly finds himself in an increasing series of cascading, complicated manoeuvres which offer him potential monetary rewards but only appear to fuel the bitterness in him.


Jeffrey Wright’s had some excellent roles, but is also an actor clearly capable of elevating even the less obvious ones – he’s a great Jim Gordon in The Batman; a great Felix Leiter in Bond, and he managed to impressively fill the gaping void left by Anthony Hopkins in later seasons of Westworld. Seldom gifted a leading opportunity, however, American Fiction is the perfect vehicle to showcase his weathered, cynical, but eminently intellectual charms.


It’s pure Wright, and whilst he gets a decent roster of chewy supporting cast members (This is Us’ Sterling K. Brown has a ball, Black-ish’s Tracee Ellis Ross steals her scenes, The Lovebirds’ Issa Rae challenges expectations, and a few nice cameos from the likes of Keith David and even Adam Brody sweeten the pot), the film is defined by Wright’s Monk and his fabulous use – and misuse – of language. Though the film throws a whole bunch of heady topics and themes into the melting pot, Wright’s Monk helps you not to get lost in some kind of messy sociopolitical quagmire and instead remain firmly focused on this one man, and his identity, and his ideals.


The directorial debut of writer Cord Jefferson (Master of None, The Good Place, Succession, HBO’s Watchmen, Station Eleven), it’s immediately impressive how smoothly Jefferson manages to navigate a potentially more aggressively racially bent landscape without hitting any landmines, all the while working in masterful subversion into a narrative that’s so staunchly satirical that you don’t even stop to question the motivations of its author – because he’s the lead character. Launching headfirst into quick-witted put-downs, but unspooling that almost immediately courtesy of some sibling honesty, American Fiction constantly bats back and forth between the unreal and the real, never so sublimely as a drunken shot at a manuscript that cleverly sees the characters brought to life before Monk’s eyes.


There’s a lot under the bonnet of this debut work, subtly dissecting its lead character(s) whilst lightly commenting – again through the veil of that very dissection – on the literary landscape and genre expectations (not just of books, but movies too), it has a lot of fun with the story-within-a-story approach, but mostly holds your attention through its commitment to real characters, given depth and lived-in lives. You’ll be sold (or not, as the case may be) from the opening lines, but you’ll hopefully stay for the underlying resonance, and pleasantly organic food for thought. And for the long overdue standout lead performance of Jeffrey Wright. Absolutely superb film.

Movie ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ ⭐️  out of five stars

There are no extras as this is a digital copy

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