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American Fiction offers reality

With a knowing eye, the film American Fiction both uses and condemns elements that make hit movies and books. Actually, it includes pop stereotypes knowingly and facetiously, acting out the kind of contrived scenes that slide into stories so easily they seem like truth. But, growls main character Thelonious Ellison, a.k.a. Monk, these fictions and truth have as much in common as…well, to quote a cliche, oil and water. Monk’s works depend on real life and emotions, which means no one buys or reads them. In a fit of exasperation, perfectly embodied by actor Jeffrey Wright, Monk writes a trashy piece figuring it will quickly go in the bin where it belongs. Comedy results as Monk repeatedly finds himself in situations that come off as surprising to both him and the movie’s viewers. Some of Monk’s surprises arrive because of newly enforced proximity to family members. Leslie Uggams and Sterling K. Brown give warm performances forcing the brilliant but grumpy author to look at his own fallibilities.  Other surprises arise from the storytelling world, giving Issa Rae a chance to go deeper than her typical funny roles.  The comedy of errors shown in the publishing world feels right on target from novelist Percival Everett and first-time director Cord Jefferson, who adapted the book. Jefferson’s experience writing series like Watchmen gives insight into the world of storytelling, where producers assume mass audiences require simplified shortcuts and punchy endings. Sneakily enough, the writers give their project a punchy ending—plus a few others. As a result, they create what they know happens too rarely and almost sounds like impossible fiction—an entertaining piece that offers valid social commentary.  

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