Director Cord Jefferson
Starring Jeffrey Wright, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown
Scott’s Review #1,421
Reviewed February 11, 2024
American Fiction (2023) is an intelligently written expose of black culture and a poignant family drama mixed as one. Cord Jefferson makes his feature directorial debut with the satirical comedy-drama which he also wrote.
The film explores how perceptions of black people, mostly by white people but even amongst themselves, are categorized into neat little boxes.
Usually, the negative stereotypes are assumptions of bad grammar, poverty, and hardships in ghetto situations.
While some may be sympathetic these beliefs are either conscious or subconscious and they are propelled by the media. In the case of the film, through literary works.
Are white people intimidated by intelligent black people, the film questions. How do the intelligent black people feel about themselves?
American Fiction is a witty, smart, funny, and poignant film that will make you laugh as often as it makes you think about the perspectives offered.
Jefferson brilliantly offers up both an education and powerfully drawn black characters. In the middle is a sentimental family storyline that had me enraptured by almost all the characters.
The writer/director bases his film on the 2001 novel Erasure by Percival Everett. Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is a highly intelligent African-American upper-class writer and professor living in Los Angeles.
He is a frustrated novelist-professor who doesn’t make much money or sales from his serious works.
Needing money after moving back to Massachusets on a leave of absence, he decides to write an outlandish satire of stereotypical “black” books, only for it to succeed by mistakenly thought of as serious literature and published to both high sales and critical praise.
He struggles with keeping his alter ego a secret while questioning the lack of intelligence with people assumed to be the liberal elite and the general public.
Wright is great and leads the charge of a dynamic cast. He makes his characters believable and their motivations clear while still showing Monk’s conflict. Monk has lived a privileged life with education, social status, and success.
His experience as a black man is different than other black men and he is smart enough to know this while still wrestling with his feelings.
Wright is dynamic at showing many emotions.
To make the film even better, the supporting characters are delightful with stories of their own and this made me fall in love with them. Special call-outs are for Sterling K. Brown and Erika Alexander who plays Monk’s brother and girlfriend, respectively.
Brown as Cliff is a successful surgeon but lives a conflicted life as a newly ‘out’ middle-aged gay man. He dabbles in drugs and promiscuous behavior but all he wants is approval by his family.
Alexander is a successful public defender and neighbor of the Ellison’s going through a divorce. She relates to Monk while challenging him on his bullshit and is a richly carved character.
Also, Leslie Uggams Monk’s mother suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Ellison’s housekeeper Lorraine (Myra Lucretia Taylor), and Issa Rae as Sintara Golden are weaved into the canvas seamlessly and with purpose.
The ending of the film left me scratching my head a bit and caught me off guard. While clever, it made me wonder if what I had just seen was reality or fantasy. Providing three different endings as adapted film options it’s tough to know which if any actually happened but maybe that’s the point.
I left the movie theater having laughed out loud, thought, and been entertained.
American Fiction (2023) made me feel like I had seen something of relevance that would help me understand people better as well as give me insight into what other people feel.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Jeffrey Wright, Best Supporting Actor-Sterling K. Brown, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score
Independent Spirit Awards Nominations: Best Film, Best Lead Performance- Jeffrey Wright, Best Supporting Performance- Erika Alexander Sterling K. Brown, Best Screenplay