We are in the ‘Oscars’ territory with the Academy Award season slowly beginning to simmer. And while there are already a major chunk of films that I have already covered, a handful remain which I shall be covering in a few days. However, one such Oscar nominated film did premiere on VOD this week, and I managed to tick that film off my watchlist. With that, I finished watching the new English film American Fiction starring Jeffrey Wright. The internet has been a strange place to be in today’s times. While it continues to be a tool for raising awareness of campaigns, the method to madness has gone through the roof with celebrity Poonam Pandey faking her death to raise awareness about cervical cancer. Elsewhere, the opinions floating on the net even on a general basis has been quite toxic with people overtly exerting cynicism or theories which at times hold no significance whatsoever. The mixed bag of the internet, the good, the bad and the ugly have collectively ensured that all stereotypes are intact while allowing the users to perceive the world in only a certain way. Based on this theme of structured absurdity, I was quite keen on watching American Fiction. Does it manage to impress, let’s find out.
Story & Screenplay
Based on a novel, American Fiction follows the story of a writer whose writing career is stalled as his work isn’t “Black” enough. And in order to expose his publishers, he writes a ‘basic’ book under a pseudo name which gains popularity much to his dismay. Will he reveal his true identity to the world? The story here is a meta satirical comedy exposing the pseudo-intellect of people at so many levels. We live in a time where simple piece of writing sells but complex, nuanced pieces of art are often left on the outskirts of oblivion, and that is the stark reality. Stereotypes sell but a deeper meaning to those stereotypes have no takers at all. And the story here exposes that reality in a hilariously penned drama standing at a runtime of under 2 hours. It is compelling and sharp with a brand of comedy that is difficult to achieve.
The drama opens with the introduction of the protagonist(not being racist here but he is ‘black’) addressing a classroom with the subject of literature which is being discussed. Suddenly, a student takes an objection to the word ‘Nigga’ written on the board post which she is asked to leave, but not before having a healthy discussion with her teacher who doesn’t believe in stereotypes. This little scene does give immense insight into the psyche of the protagonist, a writer by profession who is struggling to sell copies of his ‘complex and nuanced’ novel while a simpler, palatable and stereotypical novel of a fellow ‘black’ writer is celebrated. The opening 20 minutes has to be one of the favourites from the recent bunch of films that I have watched even though he drama detours towards the personal life of the protagonist featuring his mother suffering from dementia, his soon to be randomly dead sister, his estranged gay brother(with whom he has a real meaningful conversation in the final act about his perceptions of his sexuality) and his soon to be neighbour turned girlfriend. And while he does lead a simple life, his life changes after his new stereotypical book written under a pseudo name gains immense popularity.
The drama is a satire on how a single man trying hard to change the society cannot go far wihout blending his thoughts with what the society wishes to hear from him. The proceedings are engaging and almost two-fold in nature. One aspect is of his personal life which is more rooted to reality and much like that of a regular person living his life with his fair share of problems to deal with. This is much contrary to the life which White Americans usually think of the Black, often resorting to crime and being ‘fugitives’. And that was the zone of the other half of the screenplay that is a part of the stereotypical novel written by the protagonist. And his battle does lie in switching from the first aspect of writing to the more palatable one.
The drama is filled with meta humour on Hollywood and its way of working. We have been witness to plenty of novels being adapted for the screen(ironically of the film whose reviewing I am writing as well). Yet, a character says that Hollywood doesn’t have the time to read the whole novel, they just transcribe the whole thing which was kind of hilarious as much as tragic. And it is this frivolous kind of mindset that is a part of the larger society that refuses to apply themselves while focusing on areas that require no real analysis, something that is expertly highlighted in the screenplay. The events leading to the final act are interesting wherein the lines of real and reel blur in a rather funny manner in what was a hilariously tragic final act that represented the collective intellect of the society. Overall, the screenplay is extremely well written and makes for an enjoyably poignant watch.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are sharp and evoke a sense of humour which was simply exceptional to witness. The BGM is understated, often allowing the conversations to strike a chord without wuite manipulating with the emotions in store. The cinematography captures frames with a flair for humour which was perfectly in sync with the vibe of the drama. The editing is sharp and crisp wherein the drama doesn’t overstay its welcome. Director Cord Jefferson does a wonderful job in tapping into a zone that is relevant in today’s times, without getting preachy. In fact, he does hit the sweet spot as far as the comedy is concerned that truly elevates the drama and makes it enjoyable. The direction is top notch here with the intended moments of satire created throughout the narrative.
The performances are wonderful by the ensemble cast. Issa Rae as Sintara and Sterling K Brown as Cliff have their moments to shine. John Ortiz as Arthur is such a laugh riot and he does a swell job here. Leslie Uggams as Agnes is heartfelt and delivers a moving performance. Erika Alexander as Coraline has a charming presence in a job well done. Jeffrey Wright as Monk(notice the name) is simply brilliant with his mannerisms and body language without losing the tone of his character. The world that unfolds is through his gaze and so it does help in gaining a POV of the society that is probably collectively lower than the temperature in your room. His performance is also reflective of how liberated he is mentally and his perception of the world that is best said to be flawed. It was a remarkably towering act by him.
American Fiction is a brilliantly penned meta ‘Black’ satire on pseudo cynicism and forced stereotypes that makes for an enjoyably poignant watch. Highly Recommended from my end.