There are two kinds of bad movies. The first is shit like Slackers that never aspires to more than shitting on you so long as you pay. It's made by greedy assholes trying make a quick buck. These show up in megaplexes. The second is a movie like Storytelling. It's ambitious but fails like a Chihuahua trying to hump a Great Dane: too short to reach the target. These show up in the arthouses.
Watching Todd Solondz's latest miserable slop Storytelling, I thought of something my grandfather used to say: "If you're going to hate everyone, at least be charming about it." True to his word, Grandpa was one charming bastard. He could dupe the prettiest girl in any room into changing his diaper, even if the very thought of her humanity made him want to vomit into his own lungs. Solondz isn't charming, and even worse, I doubt he really hates everyone. He's a pretender, as transparent as that thin webbing Dipshit Suzanne had between her toes.
Some people think I hate everyone, but nothing could be further from the truth. I love everyone. Love 'em to pieces. Until they let me down. There are misanthropes around here, like that old fucker who throws pebbles at me when I walk to the library, or Carlos at the liquor store who chases me away when I dig through the trash bin at the end of each month. What the fuck happens to the leftover dirty magazines when the new ones arrive? Does anyone know? These are real misanthropes looking to beat the shit out of others in the real world. Solondz, on the other hand, is a pasty artsy-fart lobbing attacks at the suburbs from the darkness of urban arthouse theaters. Here, he's surrounded by his friends, the urban phonies who will agree to any diatribe against the suburbs--no matter how tired or misinformed--because they think it somehow justifies their ridiculous rents and overpriced martini bars.
Storytelling is two stories. In the first, tighter and better one, titled "Fiction," flat-chested Selma Blair is a overly-politically-correct college student who is naked a lot. Fellas, you won't get your rocks off. She's just a bony skank. In "Fiction," she is a lousy writer in a short story class with her cerebral palsy boyfriend. He's even shittier. In fact, his character gets the funniest line in the movie with his story about how he found love and stopped thinking CP stood for "cerebral palsy" and started meaning "cerebral person." Their brooding, ill-tempered black professor (Robert Wisdom) hates their stories and hates whitey. But, he has a thing for fucking and degrading the anglo ladies. After bumping into him in a bar, Blair goes home with him to prove she isn't racist. He degrades her and humps her up against a wall while making her shout "Fuck me harder, nigger." Crushed and broken, Blair then turns the event into a short story that her class and her professor declare as gratuitously shocking, unpleasant and politically incorrect just to be controversial.
This is Solondz addressing his own critics, but he does it by being gratuitously shocking, unpleasant and unnecessarily politically incorrect. Oo, how daring he is to use the word nigger! It's amazing how far out of its way this guy will drive his story just to be revolting. Not that I dislike revolting. I admit a strange attraction to Candy Bottom's quadruple-X film "Digging New Holes and Filling 'Em" despite all the blood. But, Solondz thinks that shocking is art. And nothing here is. It's just what the fucker thinks will creep out suburban moms and be "controversial" in the sense that timid people say they don't like it and arthouse phonies will pride themselves on being "open-minded" enough to not be repulsed.
What's worse is that Solondz ends the story with Blair yelling "But it really happened!" He's saying that maybe it is unpleasant, but that's the way life is. Or so the little fucker imagines. It didn't really happen in his world, so he doesn't even have the luxury of using experience as his excuse for his unpleasantness.
And knowing what your critics say doesn't make the criticism any less valid. Every day someone tells me I'm an asshole. I know I'm an asshole, but knowing that doesn't make me any less of one. I'm an asshole. Not proud, just stubborn.
Storytelling's second part "Nonfiction" is longer, completely unfocused and as boring as the peep hole into the pig barn at the County Fair, except for that one day when the girls of the 4H got in that water-hose fight. Supposedly, "Nonfiction" is about Paul Giamatti, a shoe salesman schlub who wants to shoot a documentary but he doesn't know what about. He just wants to be loved as a storyteller. He settles on the easiest documentary subject out there: teenagers. The process involves him in the upper-middle class suburban milieu of lazy dopehead Mark Webber and his family. Giamatti films without knowing what he's trying to say, he edits Webber's life into a hit comedy for superior urban hipsters. The point is supposed to be about how documentarians exploit and manipulate their subjects in order to make entertainment for the masses. The story refers to the real American Movie and how it took one man's dreams and turned them into comedy fodder.
This is just plain fucking awful. It's like a bad short story written by a junior college kid who still lives at home and whose parents just told him they are getting divorced. It's all anger pointed at the same old subjects in the same old way. It has no central character. In fact, there are no characters, just two-dimensional Colorforms laid out to barf up a myriad of unrelated commentaries that only work in the world Solondz has created. It's a cheap and lazy writer who creates the dialog first and the character later, but that's how this works. As a result, the dialog is didactic, like a primer on why to hate the suburbs. They aren't talking to each other, or having a debate. They're just unpleasant props and what they have to say is tired, hateful, and worst of all, misinformed.
In a badly awkward subplot, Solondz attempts to criticize the upper-middle class for dehumanizing their impoverished housekeepers. He does it by making her a put-upon saint with no personality or character. He doesn't even respect her enough to make her a character, and yet he thinks he can tell us to feel more compassion. Fuck you, Solondz. The family's youngest child makes Alex P. Keaton look like a liberal, not real, just a fraud set up to remind us how morally bankrupt the suburbs are. Same with John Goodman as the father, who is the "very mean and unhappy suburban dad." The mother (Julie Hagerty), of course, is ditzy, frazzled and superficial because there can be no real happiness beyond the city limits. They all wander in and out of the story with out focus other than to promote dogma.
Two Fingers for Storytelling. What a waste of a good opportunity. Mr. Solondz, next time, if you can't think of anything new to say, just shut the fuck up.
©2002 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All fucking rights reserved.
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