Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA, 2001. New Line Cinema, Killer Films, Good Machine. Screenplay by Todd Solondz. Cinematography by Frederick Elmes. Produced by Ted Hope, Christine Vachon. Music by Nathan Larson. Production Design by James Chinlund. Costume Design by John A. Dunn. Film Editing by Alan Oxman.
Todd Solondz follows two exceptionally good features with a rare misfire, a dull and humourless examination of societal self-image split in two parts. The first, “Fiction”, has college student Selma Blair attending a creative writing class with her boyfriend, witnessing his work savaged by students and teacher alike and having their relationship deeply affected by it as a result. She has a night with her instructor (Robert Wisdom) that inspires her to bring in her own writing project, a story based on the experience that is treated as phony posturing by everyone in the classroom. In the second, much less interesting story, “Non-fiction”, Paul Giamatti plays a failed actor turned documentary filmmaker who infiltrates the home of a suburban New Jersey family, focusing on a listless high school student whom he plans to make the subject of his first film. He spends all his time capturing the young man’s reality and yet, when the film is assembled, it becomes the same kind of fodder for interpretation as Blair’s story was. All representation is to be taken as the creative construction of the author, regardless of its claims to authenticity, and all art is interpreted by the audience member regardless of how directly it is coming from a source of truth, but this lofty theme matters little when sitting through this colourless affair. Solondz often makes movies about the darkest side of human motivation, frequently letting his characters express their frustrations and failings directly without timidity (and often to the most inappropriate listeners, usually children), but here the interactions have absolutely no comedy to them and it comes off preachy and judgmental. The film garnered a fair level of controversy upon its release for sexually explicit imagery, a tug of war between Solondz and the ratings board that was eventually dealt with by placing a giant red digital box over the action between Blair and Wisdom.