American Fiction

Director: Cord Jefferson
Writer: Cord Jefferson
Main Cast: Jeffery Wright, Sterling K. Brown, Erika Alexander
Country: US
Language: English
Runtime: 1h 57m

Rarely do we find a movie filled with captivating dialogues and a screenplay that offers an effortless commentary on society and stereotypes. But finally, it’s here, skillfully packaged into the latest comedy-drama film ‘American Fiction.’ Based on the 2001 novel ‘Erasure’ by Percival Everett, this 2023 movie has already generated buzz and received numerous accolades. The film has been nominated in multiple categories at the Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay.

The film follows a black American author whose thorough and complex books struggle to find popularity as they don’t conform to the stereotypical melodramatic portrayal of black lives, as many Americans believe to be true. Out of frustration, he writes an outlandish novel as a mere joke to society. To his surprise and shock, he begins to receive attention and lucrative offers from publishers, who consider his book a serious literary work. When he persistently rejects the offer, refusing to succumb to the stereotypical instincts of the readers, his friend and agent offer him a perfect analogy. By putting the three different variants of Johnny Walker, Red, Black, and Blue, and correlating them with pathetic, good, and excellent, he emphasizes how even Jonny Walker can make excellent whiskey but still produces pathetic ones.

‘American Fiction’ is insightful and gives a peek into the literary culture of America. The first-time director, Cord Jefferson knows well that there is nothing better than humor to tackle the most difficult and important topics.

Jeffrey Wright, as Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison, an author weary of the misrepresentation of his community in his homeland, breathes life into the character. While his professional struggles weigh heavily on him, his family life compounds his issues. From the sudden passing of a sister to the brother’s rivalry and an ailing mother, his family dynamics add layers to the story, unraveling his character and allowing the audience to see the man behind the writer.

What is interesting to note is how Cord Jefferson, who has also adapted the screenplay, ingeniously illustrates that every decision in one’s life is not as straightforward as it may appear, and professional choices are often intertwined with personal needs and vice versa. Therefore, despite his long-held principle of doing what he believes is right and not succumbing to what is acceptable, Monk is compelled to make hard choices. Later in the movie, he succinctly summarizes his frustration by saying, “The dumber I behave, the richer I get.” The movie is filled with such humorous dialogues, shedding light on society’s intellectual regression, as it clings to notions and fails to grasp the complex nature of reality.

‘American Fiction’ makes a daring but thoughtful statement that popularity correlates with mediocrity. With the theme showcasing the stereotypical perception of black lives, it is not limited to any culture or race and carries a universal approach.

The film, however, relegates its female characters to mere props in the story, failing to recognize them as individuals with their motivations and complexities. Erika Alexander, as Caroline, Monk’s love interest, provides a glimpse into his softer and more vulnerable side. Tracee Ellis Ross, as Lisa Ellison, Monk’s elder sister, exits the screen too early to leave a lasting impact; her entire character is primarily used to introduce the first plot point in the story. However, his estranged brother Cliff, played by Sterling K. Brown, is the only other character besides Monk who undergoes significant character development. Alongside his nuances and backstory, he offers insight into Monk’s childhood and formative years, providing background to the rivalry between the brothers.

American Fiction

American Fiction cannot simply be labeled as a film about a writer, torn between writing the truth versus what sells. It has much more to offer, from family drama to romantic angles, from assumed identity to fantasy calling, all while maintaining the central premise and simultaneously treating the audience with wit and irony.

Additionally, as it takes its viewers on a journey, it allows them to envision the ending. With multiple climactic possibilities, and eventually finalizing one of the daydream sequences, the film gives enough space for viewers to imagine the ending of their liking.

Now available on Prime Video.

Pankaj Madaan

A filmmaker and a screenwriter known for his comprehensive knowledge of world cinema and insightful commentary on the Hindi film industry.

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