Second story, man?
The first tale of woe in the two-part "Storytelling" makes a sharp short film by itself, but the second is a stretch as Todd Solondz tells more darkly humorous stories of people with plenty of reasons to be miserable.
By JOSHUA TANZER
(Originally reviewed at the 2001 New York International Film Festival.)
"Storytelling" is really two films in one by Todd Solondz, maker of the suburban depress-a-thons "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Happiness."
Part one, titled "Fiction," makes a coherent short story by itself. With his pink-haired girlfriend by his side in creative-writing class, a college student with cerebral palsy reads his uplifting story about persevering through disability. "It kind of reminded me of Faulkner but East Coast. And disabled," says one effusive classmate.
|Written and directed by: Todd Solondz.|
Cast: Selma Blair, Jennifer Elise Cox, Paul Giamatti, Leo Fitzpatrick, Lupe Ontiveros, Steve Railsback, Robert Wisdom, Mark Webber, Mike Schank, Noah Fleiss, John Goodman, Julie Hagerty, Nick Maltes, Conan O'Brien, Jonathan Osser, Aleksa Palladino, Franka Potente, Steven Rosen, James T. Williams II..
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But not everyone is so indulgent, and soon at least four characters the boy, the girlfriend, the sadistic writing teacher and the star student are enmeshed in a subtle but angry battle of writing, criticism, ego and sex. It's a perfect short film that focuses on one well-defined story while getting the most from its characters and turning up the heat with audience-shocking developments every few minutes.
Part two, called "Nonfiction," is a completely separate story, though related in concept. A pathetic loser (we know this from the first scene, gratuitously added to establish him as such) named Toby decides to take advantage of the luxury of unemployment by becoming a documentary filmmaker. His subject: the angst of young, college-bound America. "I wrote to Derrida to see if he'd like to do the narration," he mentions.
The film he's making is a clumsily up-close look at the only teenager who will agree to participate, Scooby Livingston (Mark Webber), who wasn't even thinking about going to college until he learned that even Conan O'Brien did. The Livingston family (with John Goodman playing the father) is a piece of work, and Scooby is the least promising of the bunch though not a bad subject if you're looking for a few dimwitticisms.
This second part has its faults especially a plot direction that hinges on a character being hypnotized and carrying out the hypnotizer's evil will. It's a hokey and unreal device that goes back at least as far as "Gilligan's Island," maybe Vaudeville.
On the other hand, Solondz continues to display his gift for a unique kind of black humor he takes pathetic characters and makes you laugh every time their situation gets even worse. As in "Welcome to the Dollhouse," it's the pathos of Sisyphean characters beset by ever-increasing misery who don't even know they are miserable.
It's left for us to ponder the meaning of these two stories. For one thing, when Toby shows his atrocious documentary to an audience of New York art-house sophisticates, they scream their heads off over the dorky Scooby. Perhaps Solondz, in this fictional story about nonfiction, is pointedly alligning himself with the clumsy but real documentarian and mocking us moviegoers for having the nerve to laugh at real people's real woes.
|OCTOBER 2, 2001|
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