Movie Reviews
12:11 pm
Tue February 26, 2002

Storytelling

Both stories appear to represent the director’s dark feelings about writing, filmmaking, and the critics who accuse him of being superior to his characters.

Todd Solondz's "Welcome to the Dollhouse" showed comic/absurd promise; his masturbation scene in "Happiness" overstepped the boundary of film taste but got everyone’s attention.

His current film "Storytelling" is split in two: The superior first half, "Fiction," starring Selma Blair, tells of a harrowing creative writing class where teacher debases student in more than one way; the weak second half, "Non-fiction," tells of a harrowing Jewish family, headed by John Goodman, who banishes kids from the dinner table like Saddam Hussein at a weekly executive meeting. Both stories appear to represent the director’s dark feelings about writing, filmmaking, and the critics who accuse him of being superior to his characters.

In addition, racism takes an ugly turn with an abusive black creative writing teacher in the first segment and the vengeful Latino maid in the second. Solondz has a hard time creating any sympathy for his characters or their desires: a coed uses both her cerebral-palsy lover and her predatory teacher; a young teen is lost in self-indulgence about his future, barely aware of a brother’s coma. Another brother who hypnotizes his father is a nerdy, destructive manipulator who could grow up to be a sardonic director.

Solondz’s contempt for the critics of his previous films is crystallized in the character of a documentary maker, Toby, who exploits audience and actors alike, and accepts the Jewish family's fate as if it were just another piece of realism.

Even if his film lacks the bite and humor of his earlier work, Todd Solondz is still out there where few of his contemporaries except maybe David Lynch and Neil LaBute dare to go. John Waters seems like Mother Theresa by comparison to Solondz... Yet I hope never to say about this director what his disabled surrogate says to his lover in "Fiction": "The kinkiness has gone. You've become kind."