Review: American Fiction (2023)

American Fiction (2023) American Fiction (2023)

An alternately cutting and tender satire, which chooses not to land.

I wanted to enjoy American Fiction in its entirety – start to finish, bottom to top. Its premise is fun, engaging, and above all beyond timely: respected but unsuccessful African American author Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) writes a cynical, pandering, scandalous tome in a frighteningly successful attempt to sell out. Director and co-writer Cord Jefferson‘s adaptation of Percival Everett‘s novel Erasure is by turns deft and charming, and its ensemble of performers (particularly Sterling K. Brown, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Issa Rae) is wonderful.

The satire in American Fiction alternates between tender and cutting, its humour between bittersweet and callous, its palette more complex and textured than its brush strokes ultimately manage to embody or fulfil.

The first cracks in American Fiction (setting aside its egregiously robbing us of its most endearing character so early on) begin to show when the film takes longer than it should to get where we know it’s going, and in its choice to build Monk’s motivation not in the literary landscape to which he reacts, but in his fraught family situation. These cracks form into breaks in the film’s culmination: its meta ending.

The character arcs and relationship threads, in which we have been asked to invest as they’ve been built gradually and woven with interesting details and acute observations, are simply left dangling. In announcing itself with a frustration simmering into fury, it feels like a cop-out for American Fiction to suggest, in its text, that its culmination in a narrative shrug of an ending speaks to the same under- (or mis-) represented lived Black American experience.

Further Viewing

American Fiction Cast Talks Type Casting (via CocoaButter):

StudioBinder looks at how American Fiction establishes its themes within its opening scenes:

Related Posts: