Few films made as much noise as Todd Solondz’s Storytelling at last year’s Cannes Film Festival-and, if you’re opposed to incest, rape, or making fun of people with disabilities, then you will probably be bothered by this twisted and shocking dark comedy. However, those who have seen Solondz’s previous works, Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, will undoubtedly appreciate this new chapter in a career that has already made a lot of critical noise.
Storytelling is no Happiness. It is no Welcome to the Dollhouse. In fact, the second half is nowhere near as good as the first. Split up into two parts (“Fiction” and “Non-fiction” respectively), the movie is an extremely uneven film that prides itself in being able to laugh at subjects that are far too taboo for most filmmakers to even dream of approaching.
The first section comes to us as a short film about a young college student with cerebral palsy (Leo Fitzpatrick), his pink-haired girlfriend (Selma Blair), and a sadistic creative writing professor (Robert Wisdom). “[…] and CP no longer stood for cerebral palsy, it stood for Cerebral Person […]” finishes the boy. “It sort of reminded me of Faulkner-but East Coast…and disabled” critiques one of his classmates. And within the next ten minutes, the protagonists drag us on an eye-popping trip full of sex, rape, writing, and gluttonous egos.
The second part, “Non-fiction”, has little if nothing to do with the first. It runs over an hour and focuses around the life of Scooby (Mark Webber), and his suburban family headed by none other than a polished John Goodman.
A shoe salesman turned documentary filmmaker decides to capture the essence of American teens in suburbia through what he would like to think of as the next big piece of non-fiction film. “I wrote to Derrida to see if he’d like to do the narration,” he proclaims. Toby follows Scooby throughout his daily functions and tries to delve into subjects such as his relationships with girls or his college applications.
What ensues is a mess of a film, with hardly driven characters, a weak plot, and a few situational jokes that include fellatio, arson, and hypnotism (in no particular order). In fact, it was saddening to see such a creative director/writer relying on easy and contrived plot devices to make his story advance.
Storytelling is worth seeing for those who have followed Solondz’s previous endeavors and appreciate a filmmaker who is not afraid to make some critics cringe in discomfort. However, be warned that some countries have chosen to ban or heavily censor this film. At the same time, can we really trust censors who, sources say, caused Solondz’s producers to cut out a homoerotic scene featuring none other than James Van Der Beek ?
See this film; hate it, love it, discuss it.