Monday 8 April 2024

Movie Review: American Fiction (2023)

Genre: Drama Comedy  
Director: Cord Jefferson  
Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, Erika Alexander, John Ortiz, Adam Brody, Issa Rae, Stirling L. Brown  
Running Time: 117 minutes  

Synopsis: Dr. Thelonious "Monk" Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is a black professor and author, labouring in obscurity because he does not care to write about black issues. Close to burn out, he spends time with his family in Massachusetts, where successive health crises strike his sister Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross) and mother Agnes (Leslie Uggams). Monk starts a romance with Coraline (Erika Alexander) and witnesses the success of new author Sintara (Issa Rae), whose debut novel about the "raw" black experience is celebrated in literary circles. As a joke Monk cranks out his own "raw" novel under a pseudonym, and it is immediately acclaimed a classic.

What Works Well: Wrapping biting satire around caustic social commentary, writer and director Cord Jefferson uses dry humour to expose hypocrisy in culture and the fleeting superficiality of topics-du-jour. Neither the weight of family tragedies descending on Monk nor his academic pursuits are of any interest to anyone else. But his throwaway crass novel about black thugs is suddenly all the rage amongst elites pretending to care. And when he tests insincerity limits by insisting on a vulgar title, the frenzy only intensifies. Jeffrey Wright rides Monk's downs-and-ups with an appropriate sense of bemused detachment. 

What Does Not Work As Well: The secondary characters surrounding Monk succumb to quantity over quality, adding some value but mostly accumulating into a pile of clutter and padding.

Conclusion: Perceptively on-trend.

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