American Fiction (2023)

American Fiction (2023)

This sharp and hilarious social satire about African American art is as entertaining as it is enlightening

The Very Best

8.0

Movie

United States of America
English
Comedy, Drama
2023
CORD JEFFERSON
Adam Brody, Alexander Pobutsky, Bates Wilder
117 min

TLDR

The multiple Oscar nominations this film pulled? A hundred percent deserved.

What it's about

When writer Monk Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) jokingly whips up a novel filled with racial stereotypes and cliches under the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh, the book becomes a surprise hit. With bills to pay and his esoteric pitches going nowhere, he decides to keep up the ruse while keeping the novel a secret from his concerned girlfriend and flailing brother.

The take

On the one hand, American Fiction is a razor-sharp satire that pokes fun at the hypocrisy of the literary and entertainment industry. It's only when Monk (Wright), a genius but esoteric writer, decides to pander and give in to what publishers have come to expect from Black authors (that is: trauma porn) that he is finally celebrated for his work. But on the other hand, the film is also a tender family drama. Monk sells out, as it were, partly because he’s fascinated by the stupidity of decision-makers and supposed intellectuals, but mostly because he needs to pay for his ailing mother’s care. His relationship with his siblings and deceased father likewise informs much of his character, and they complicate what could’ve been just an intellectual approach to a social issue. This is an educational and entertaining film, yes, one that looks at the complex intersection between identity, craft, and profit. But it’s also an empathetic film, told with a big heart and a surprisingly light touch.

What stands out

Whoever cast Jeffrey Wright, Sterling K. Brown, and Tracee Ellis Ross as siblings deserves a heaping raise. I almost wish the family drama part of the film was its own thing just so we can see more scenes of them together, and more of that sibling dynamic (a weird mix of competitiveness and affection) develop.

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