Monday, March 25, 2024

Movie Monday: American Fiction

Looking for a movie to watch Saturday night, I went through the list of Oscar Best Picture nominees, and we chose American Fiction. I'd heard great things about it, and my husband trusted me (well, that, and the 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and 96% audience score!). We both enjoyed this warm, thoughtful, entertaining movie about books, writing, and the publishing industry.

Thelonius "Monk" Ellison (yeah, it's a mouthful--that's why he goes by Monk), played by Jeffrey Wright, teaches disinterested college students about literature and writing and has published several literary fiction novels. He's a smart, well-educated man and his books have been critically acclaimed, but they don't sell well. When Monk participates in a literary festival, his session is poorly attended, so he goes down the hall to see where everyone is. A packed room is listening raptly to a well-spoken Black female author, played by Issa Rae. Her widely popular novel, We's Lives in the Ghetto, of which she reads an excerpt, represents everything Monk feels is wrong with the publishing industry. It relies on Black stereotypes: rapping, trash-talking Black characters dealing with teen pregnancy, jail, and deadbeat dads. Monk is disgusted, but when he's got writer's block while working on his latest novel, he writes his own "real Black experience" novel as a joke. His editor is shocked when he sends it out, and Monk is offered the highest advance he's ever gotten (by a long shot) from a major publisher. As disgusted as Monk is with the whole thing, he desperately needs money. His sister, played by Tracee Ellis Ross, and brother, played by Sterling K. Brown, are both broke after painful divorces, and his mother has dementia and clearly needs 24-hour care. Needing to care for her, he publishes the book under a pseudonym, and the movie rights are quickly sold for an astronomical sum. Struggling with family issues and wanting to get closer to a woman he's been dating named Coraline, played by Erika Alexander, Monk is conflicted but goes forward. As you might expect, things get really complicated (and hilarious).

This is a very funny movie, but it's smart humor with a hefty dose of irony that the audience is in on. It's also poignant and heartwarming. While it is clearly skewering the publishing industry (and some readers), it's also a deeply-felt, moving story about family. And of course, it is a thoughtful, original approach to thinking about race and biases in our society. It won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay (it's based on the novel Erasure by Percival Everett), and it's clear why: the writing is outstanding. That, combined with excellent performances by its A-list stars, makes this movie an absolute winner. My husband and I both loved it and laughed all the way through.

It is streaming on MGM (I didn't even know they had a streaming service). It is also available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon and on other outlets, like YouTube, Apple, and Roku.

I'm including a "clean" trailer below, which showcases the humor of the movie, but the trailer with the swearing in it is even more funny and highlights the roles of Ross (as his sister) and Brown (as his brother).

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