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Best Picture Binge - American Fiction

A cinematic stick of dynamite.



American Fiction is a 2023 comedy drama film directed by Cord Jefferson, written Cord Jefferson, produced by MRC, T-Street, Almost Infinite, and 3 Arts Entertainment, and distributed by Orion Pictures. It was based on Percival Everett's 2001 novel, Erasure. The film stars Jeffrey Wright and Sterling K. Brown. It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Original Score.


"Potential is what people see when what's in front of them isn't good enough." - Sintara Golden

Plot


Struggling writer Thelonious "Monk" Ellison is yet to write a hit, and the publishers claim it's because his books aren't "black enough". Out of spite, Monk decides to write a traditional "black" book, which ends up becoming his biggest success. While dealing with the fallout of this book, Monk also struggles to connect with his family amidst tragedy.


The Sweet


American Fiction is a pretty solid satire, which I find to be rare these days. Unlike Barbie, I think this movie has restraint. It is able to convey it's message without having a character monologue for ten minutes and explain the whole point of the film. It points out flaws in society by being funny, but it is also incredibly compelling. The film will make you laugh out loud, but it will also make you think while you're laughing, which I feel like very few films are able to do today.


Jeffrey Wright and Sterling K. Brown were nominated for Oscars, so it goes without saying that they are incredible. In his previous performances, I felt like Wright always played the same character, whether in The Hunger Games or The Batman or Syriana. He is always this smart, deadpan guy. And he is that in American Fiction, too, but he fits the character so much more and is able to shine with a comedic side that he has not shown in most of his other performances. And Brown plays Wright's wacky brother. He just goes for it, and it completely works.


I also really dug the main story of this movie. The idea of a black writer being criticized for his work not being "black enough" is both very funny and somewhat real. When you have a concept like that, it is ripe for a satire, and American Fiction completely capitalizes on that chance. I would say that this will compete with Oppenheimer for Best Adapted Screenplay. It is written incredibly well.


I also think the film can be very creative at times. There's a specific scene where Wright's character is writing his "black book" and the characters come to life. It's a great way to visualize a person creating a story while also being really, really funny. Dramedies, while sometimes great, do not always allow for the most creative scenery, but American Fiction breaks that mold and brings in some unique, fun ways to portray its story.


The Sour


There are a few problems I have with this film.


The major one is the ending. I simply was not a fan of the way this film wrapped up. In the last fifteen minutes, the movie becomes very meta. There are almost multiple endings in the way that it's done, but then it makes fun of itself for basically not having a satisfying ending. I thought that that was incredibly stupid. It almost felt a bit like She-Hulk, where meta humor makes fun of bad writing to cover up the fact that there is actually bad writing. That isn't the way to do it. Find a good ending for your movie instead of just making fun of your movie for having a bad ending. A lot of the plot lines are left without resolution, which I just found to be incredibly, incredibly disappointing, and it made me like the movie a lot less.


The other thing is the family drama. I'm more mixed on this. American Fiction tries to be two things: a satire about race in regards to entertainment and media and a sad family drama. The satirical side works, and the family drama side is more mixed. These two stories, however, are not interconnected. It feels like American Fiction just decided to be two different movies. The only thing that connects them is the main character. Monk Ellison's arc and flaws develop through both sides of the story, but besides that, the two are almost completely separate.


The two different stories also make the tone feel very wonky. The satirical side is very funny and plays a pretty heavy subject in a light-hearted way that feels earned, but the family side is very sad and pretty dark. This makes the film feel very imbalanced. Half the time, you are laughing and thinking about how great of a satire this is, but half the time you are also sad and thinking about how depressing of a story this is. It was a weird mix. And I was not a fan.


Does This Movie Deserve It's Best Picture Nomination?


Yes. Despite my negatives being pretty detailed, I still really enjoyed this movie and I think it completely earns a Best Picture nod. It has great performances, great direction, great writing, half a great story, and half a fine story. There's a lot of greatness in that, so I think it deserves the nomination. Satires are also popular among the Academy because they have something to say, and American Fiction tackles the subject of race and racism in a light-hearted, funny way while also making you think.


So, yes, American Fiction deserves it's Best Picture nomination.


Final Thoughts and Score


American Fiction is almost an amazing movie, but a bad ending and some weird tonal imbalance hold it back from being great.


I will go Savory here. Age range is 13+.


SWEET N' SOUR SCALE

Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)


"American Fiction"


Fun Factor: 7.5/10

Acting: 9/10

Story: 8/10

Characters: 8/10

Quality: 8.5/10


Directed by Cord Jefferson


Rated R for language, disturbing themes and images, sexual content, thematic elements


Released on December 15, 2023


1 hour and 57 minutes


Jeffrey Wright as Thelonious "Monk" Ellison

Sterling K. Brown as Cliff Ellison

Tracee Ellis Ross as Lisa Ellison

Erika Alexander as Coraline

Issa Rae as Sintara Golden

John Ortiz as Arthur

Leslie Uggams as Agnes Ellison

Myra Lucretia Taylor as Lorraine

Adam Brody as Wiley

Keith David as Willy the Wonker

Okieriete Onaodowan as Van Go Jenkins

Raymond Anthony Thomas as Maynard

Miriam Shor as Paula Baderman

Michael Cyril Creighton as John Bosco

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