THUMBS DOWN FILM REVIEW RATING!
It’s probably fun to make a movie about yourself — or one that focuses closely on you — and that is what director Solondz has done with STORYTELLING. Not only is the film divided into two nearly unintelligible segments, it is further broken down during the final section by portraying a down-on-his luck director (Paul Giamatti, THE ILLUSIONIST) who is obviously a doppelganger of Solondz himself.
Overflowing with apathy, Storytelling has two distinct parts: "fiction" and "nonfiction." In fiction, which launches the film, we’re introduced to Vi (Selma Blair, HELLBOY), a young New Jersey college student involved in a writing/literature class that concentrates on critique. Her boyfriend Marcus (Leo Fitzpatrick, THE WIRE TV series) has cerebral palsy and it appears the only reason she’s with him is because of her apathy toward college life and those that haunt its halls. The teacher of the class is a forbidding black man named Mr. Scott (Robert Wisdom, also from THE WIRE), a Pulitzer Prize winner who’s flat affect and bored demeanor heaves a heavy shadow over the class. But apathy attracts apathy in Solondz story, so Vi and Mr. Scott have a sexual encounter, if for no other reason than to slip out of their routines and into one another. There’s actually some interesting dark sexual comedy here, but it quickly dissolves.
Perhaps "fiction" was part nonfiction, too, as one could easily see Solondz sitting in a class, reading stories that get sledgehammer critiques.
The second and final portion of Storytelling is "nonfiction." Here we find Toby Oxman (Giamatti), a man who can’t seem to finish anything. But when he discovers a young kid named Scooby (Mark Webber, THE MEMORY THIEF) who mirrors Toby’s own complacency toward life, the wannabe film maker believes he’s found a new calling: to make a documentary about society. John Goodman (O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?) stars as Scooby’s father, a big man that pushes his kids and family too hard to become his ideal nuclear family. His wife Fern (Julie Hagerty, AIRPLANE) is just as disinterested in life as the rest of the cast, but hides it behind a facade of smiles. The only empathetic character in the Webber household is the maid Consuelo (Lupe Ontiveros, TORTILLA HEAVEN) who gets fired because she shows some interest in life. Toby Oxman films all of the Webber household people but keeps his focus on Scooby, whom he sees strictly as a character subject.
That the film ends abruptly with the death of Scooby’s family, and we still see no emotional response from him, only adds to the viewer’s anger that there’s no one in the film to care about. No protagonist that we can get behind. No angst from any of the characters. They are blobs of human flesh pooling around each other in uninteresting ways.
Directing a movie about society's complacency has been done before; AMERICAN BEAUTY is probably the most notable of these. But the characters were multifaceted and you cared about them. Here in Storytelling, the premise seems to be filming a flick about apathy just for the sake of showing apathy.