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STORYTELLING

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Selma Blair, Robert Wisdom, Paul Giamatti, John Goodman, Mark Webber, Julie Hagerty
Director:  Todd Solondz
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  New Line Cinema
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  87 Minutes
Release Date:  July 16, 2002

“Are you a pervert?”

“No.  I’m a filmmaker.”

Film (zero stars)

I’m a movie lover by nature, so it’s really rare for me to come across a film I absolutely hate.  It doesn’t feel good when it happens…it feels even worse if that picture is by a filmmaker whose work I’ve admired greatly in the past.  Todd Solondz is the auteur behind Welcome to the Dollhouse, which I still consider the greatest movie about adolescence ever made.  Now, he offers up Storytelling, an absolutely vile exercise in everything that is contemptible and cruel.  It forces you to ask:  how can the same artist, who once showed such love and tenderness toward his characters, suddenly become a bully who relishes and revels in their misery?

The film is divided into two segments, “Fiction” and “Nonfiction”.  The “Fiction” segment is short, pointless, has nothing to do with the meatier second part, and exists only to belittle and reduce people to hateful stereotypes.  Solondz snickers at the pain of a crippled writing student, then gleefully licks his chops as an intelligent, prize winning African American writer (Wisdom) is reduced to a lecherous sex fiend.

In “Nonfiction”, a documentary filmmaker (Giamatti) attempts to make a picture about the “All American” family in the new millennium, and the pressures their oldest son Scooby (Webber) feels while being forced into college by his overbearing father (Goodman).  Scooby smokes pot, dreams about being a TV star despite his lack of academic ambition, and…oh, yes, has a gay sex scene which has nothing to do with the story or his character, but is played only for squirm factor.

Even more hateful is the appearance of yet another racial stereotype; this time, a Latin American housemaid who’s treated shamefully by the family’s youngest kid, who later gets her fired after learning of a terrible personal tragedy she’s suffered.  She comes back to exact revenge…I think Solondz purposefully invites us to think of Yolanda Escobar with this character.

I’m shocked and amazed by what some respectable critics have had to say about this picture, including its supposed “insights” into suburban life, and so on.  Bull.  I’ve encountered very few pictures in my career that are less insightful than Storytelling.  This picture has nothing to say.  It’s non-cohesive, lacks any kind of dramatic structure or arc, and is filled with the most flatly drawn characters I’ve seen in a long time, who exist only so their creator can drip his contempt upon them in frame after frame like so much venom.

On second thought, maybe Storytelling IS an insightful film.  I think I’ve learned more about Todd Solondz than I ever cared to know.

BONUS TRIVIA: The only difference between the R-rated and unrated versions of the film is that a key sex scene early on is blocked out digitally with a big red quadrangle.

Video **

This DVD is not one of New Line’s prouder moments.  Being that there are four versions of the film on a single sided disc, compression abounds, even with the lack of features.  Shot after shot is filled with murky, poorly defined images and colors that are washed out from the necessary compression.  It’s far from unwatchable, but is quite possibly the worst ever offering in this department from the reputable New Line.

Audio **

The audio is mostly about the dialogue, and is therefore unspectacular by nature in both 5.1 and 2.0 surround forms.  I noticed no use of the rear stage or the .1 channel at all, but this isn’t the kind of film where you miss it.  Spoken words are clean and clear, though dynamic range is clearly minimal.  A passable effort, nothing more.

Features *

Only a trailer.  The box claims “animated menus”…there are none.

Summary:

Storytelling is a despicable piece of garbage and a waste of anybody’s time, even at a modest 87 minutes in length.  Writer/director Todd Solondz’ contempt for his own characters seems equaled only by his contempt for his audience, and after watching this unredeemable pulp, I have to say that the feeling is entirely mutual.