Storytelling - rated - SIMMERING


There's no one as cruel as Todd Solondz.

I thought his previous film, the ironically-named Happiness (1998), was bitter, but Storytelling almost outdoes it - except that nothing can beat the issue of child abuse for sending shivers down your spine.

Storytelling is in two parts - one titled 'Fiction' and the other 'Non-Fiction'. 'Fiction' is a witty riff on pretentious writing and the way writers use people (both as material for their writing, and in the other sense of 'using' people). Everything seems to be shot in a queasy green light. The dialogue is bitter:
"Do you think I have potential as a writer?" asks Vi of her writing teacher.
"No," he replies.
"Thankyou for being honest," she responds.


Solondz takes us through terrifying humiliation to an abrupt ending to the first half of the film. As the writing teacher tell his class - good writing must have a beginning, a middle & an end. This, in my opinion is good writing, tautly directed. The second half of the film is not quite as successful.

'Non fiction' tells the story of a documentary film maker named Toby (resembling Solondz) who sets out making a film, and is quite happy to exploit a Jewish middle-class family, making them look ridiculous in order to make his film a success. However, the family is so forceful and so self-absorbed that they make him make the film entirely about them. They end up exploiting the film maker. This isn't exactly hard, since he's a bit dim: in the first scenes we see he hasn't moved on from his school days. He's still trying to date his high school sweetheart, and recapture his glory days.

There's more bitter dialogue:
"What is rape?" asks Mikey, the family's youngest son, of Consuelo, their Salvadoran housekeeper. She replies:
"It is when you love someone and they don't love you and you do something about it."
Says Mikey: "Sometimes I think my parents don't love me."
Replies Consuelo: "Then when you grow up you can do something about it."

But Mikey's smart - he wants to be the centre of attention, and so he does something about it right away. This causes a tragic cascade of events, which ends in an even more bitter scene of self-absorption. Toby approaches Scooby and says: "Ohmigod Scooby, I'm so sorry" (but, of course, he is still filming).
"Don't be," says the wounded Scooby, "the movie's a hit."

This film is obviously Solondz's reaction to the self-centredness he sees in his profession. Everybody in this film is using everybody. Like 'Happiness', it's a film to make you (as the nuns used to suggest) examine your conscience. The film's only wrong not, it seems to me, is the way Consuelo is used, by Solondz, to bring the second part of the film to its climax. But then again, as Solondz seems to say, in Hollywood, everybody uses everybod

© Michèle M Asprey 2002

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