KSL Movie Show review: Take a chance on ‘American Fiction’
Jan 15, 2024, 5:00 PM
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s sometimes frustrating to see a great film so early in the process of distribution because many of the nuances that made it great slip into the recesses of your mind. So now, a month after I first saw ‘American Fiction,’ it is finally coming to theaters in Utah. And I am so happy it’s finally here.
Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is a smart, acclaimed writer who is having a hard time selling his academic books. His professional frustrations rise to the surface when dealing with some of his L.A. college students, to the point where his Dean tells him to take some time off, go home to Boston and visit his family.
Getting along with his family is not in Monk’s wheelhouse. His mother Agnes (Leslie Uggams) is suffering from dementia, his sister Lisa (Tracy Ellis Ross) is a pesky doctor who is always busting Monk’s chops and his estranged brother Cliff (Sterling K. Brown) is a lost soul trying to find himself after a bitter divorce.
While Monk’s trying to deal with his family drama, he attends a literary conference where a vibrant, young author Sintara Golden (Issa Rae) is promoting her latest book, “We’s Live in da Ghetto,” to a raucous crowd (mostly white) who is hanging on every “black experience” moment.
Appalled by the blatant pandering, Monk has a tempered conversation with Sintara about making bank off of black stereotypes, to which she replies, “I’m just giving the audience what they want.”
Give them what they want
In a fit of frustration, Monk writes his own “black experience” book. It’s filled with gangsters, pimps, hoes, drug runners and killers.”
He calls it “My Pafology” and uses the pen name Stagg R. Leigh.
He hands it to his publisher friend as a joke, but is completely stunned when he gets a massive six-figure offer for the publishing rights and another four-million dollar offer for the movie rights.
Knowing that he could sure use the money, Monk decides to play along and become this fugitive-from-the-law author character, even though he’s repulsed by the very thought of it.
So, not only does this film project a biting satire on black material that white readers may not consider “black enough,” it also has Monk dealing with difficult family issues as he tries to come out of his arrogant, academic shell and become a real human being.
This is some of the best work Jeffrey Wright has ever done. Plus, his supporting cast including stellar performances from Sterling K. Brown and Tracy Ellis Ross, make this an exceptional movie filled with humor and drama.
Please take a chance on AMERICAN FICTION. You’ll be glad you made the effort.
AMERICAN FICTION (A-) Rated R for language throughout, some drug use, sexual references and brief violence. Starring Jeffrey Wright, Tracy Ellis Ross, John Ortiz, Leslie Uggams and Sterling K. Brown. Co-written and directed by Cord Jefferson in his directorial debut, based on the novel “Erasure” by Percival Everett. Filmed in Massachusetts. Running time: 117 minutes.