“American Fiction” is THE movie of the year

January 26th, 2024 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on ““American Fiction” is THE movie of the year”

The Oscar Nominations are out and now is the best time to catch up on the Award-winning wannabes at our local theaters. Yes, you can see “Maestro,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Anatomy of a Fall,’ and “Barbie,” but the one on your list that you shouldn’t miss is “American Fiction” starring Jeffrey Wright as a frustrated literature professor and novelist, Thelonious Monk Ellis. The film garnered 5 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Score. My bet is on both Jeffrey Wright for Lead Actor, Sterling K. Brown for Supporting Actor and a win for Best Adapted Screenplay from the book Erasure by Percival Everett. Time will tell.

Cord Jefferson co-writes the screenplay with Everett and also sits in the director’s chair as he depicts Wright’s monk flailing in the world as a second-time author and literary professor. His first book, not exactly a NYT bestseller, isn’t helping him sell his second one to any publishers as his agent Arthur (John Ortiz) not so delicately explains the situation to him. Monk is a bit of a snob, an elitist, a perfectionist who feels his literary standards are the ones every writer should adhere to. What lies ahead for Monk will be a lesson he will (and we will) never forget.

Monk becomes more frustrated after he witnesses the the likes of Sintara Golden (Issa Rae) succeeding as a novelist, capitalizing, exploiting and perpetuating the stereotypical “Black experience.” Monk is disgusted by this and somehow lands himself along side his nemesis on a panel of judges to determine the winner of the next prestigious literary award. He retaliates by writing his own Black book called My Pafology under the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh, which is entered into this competition. Monk’s disdain devolves into utter disgust as he pushes the boundaries of the title to something a tad bit more explicit; who’s going to argue with Stagg R. Leigh, an ex-con who’s book is perched to be the next number one best seller.

We watch as Monk wrestles with secret success, continually pushing the boundaries of the ridiculousness of it all, only to find himself experiencing his own duality. Being paid for something he’s not proud of and participating in shrouded interviews for his lauded piece of work, Monk looks in the mirror and questions who he is, who he has become, yet it is those around him who unknowingly praise the works of Mr. Leigh aka Monk that disturbs him the most.

This is also a story about family as we see Monk struggling with his mom (Leslie Uggams) as she is being consumed by dementia, his sister who he admires suddenly dies, and his brother who is becoming a newer more honest version of himself. Jumping in head first to a new relationship, Monk’s secret success and his guilt intertwines with everyone in his life and every aspect of it until the beautiful and unexpected ending that will leave you speechless.

While this sounds like a laboriously difficult look at race, racism, and stereotypes, it’s not. It’s hilarious, light-hearted, yet somehow poignant as it opens the door to having a real conversation about race no matter your background. “American Fiction” is as honest as the day is long — especially here in the Midwest in winter — as we, the viewer feel as if we are peeking in on Monk’s life. We see him as a brother, the love and comfort between he and Lisa (Ellis Ross). While there’s a combative element between Monk and Clifford (Brown), the love is there as are the decades of shared experiences, one of which is the burden of caring for Mom as she declines. Of course, Uggams shines in her role as the no-edit mother who has her good days and her bad ones and the family fights to do what’s right for her while still living their own lives.

“American Fiction” is a witty, smart, insightful, and relevant film for today’s world and for us all to see, but more importantly, it’s a film to start a conversation to better understand one another. This is the movie of the year. Don’t miss it.

4 Stars


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