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Dan Heller's Movie Review of "Storytelling"

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John Goodman and Julie Haggerty
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Todd Solondz is known for his extremely dark, yet uncomfortably hilarious portrayals of the darker side of suburban life. His narratives peek behind the scenes of the lives of everyday people and tell stories that reveal the true side of human nature. With Storytelling, he continues with a genre that he started with his first two films, Welcome to the Dollhouse (1996) and Happiness (1998). In 2001's Storytelling, Solondz raises the stakes by forcing you to see paradoxes in life by juxtaposing contradictory scenes directly against one another. The format of the film consists of two completely separate stories, one
Selma Blair
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called Fiction and the other, Non-fiction. The irony of life is expressed in these stories, and their proximity to one another shows how, in various contexts, reality is perceived as fiction, and fiction is perceived as reality.

In the first story, Fiction, a female college student named Vi (Selma Blair), is taking a course in fiction writing from a black professor who won a Pulitzer Prize, but is secretly bitter about how he has reaped no opportunities from this grand accomplishment. He is so bitter, in fact,
Robert Wisdom
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that he critiques his students' works unnecessarily harshly, and carries on misogynistic affairs with his female students. When a one-night affair with Vi results in her describing the scene in a dramatic short story that details the entire rape, the story is perceived as unrealistic by fellow students and is identified as fiction. Solondz punctuates the point by having the professor tell his class that all writing is fiction.

The impact of this irony is emphasized in Part Two, titled Nonfiction. Here, the protagonist is a fledgling documentarian, Toby Oxman, who returns to his old high school to document how today's students have been affected in the aftermath of Columbine. He finds Scooby
Mark Webber
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Livingston (Mark Webber), a pot-head senior with illusions of becoming famous merely by being discovered, but the portrayal of Scooby becomes less and less real as the film nears completion, but audiences perceived it as such anyway, having unintentional and catastrophic effects on the boy.

Lupe Ontiveros
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Sandwiched in between the main characters and plot points are scenes that reinforce the main theme by butting them up against one another, further illustrating the absurdity of everything. This is most effective during a particular interaction between Scooby's family, an upper-middle class Jewish family, and their housekeeper, Consuelo, an El Salvador immigrant. In the scene, the youngest boy of the household finds Consuelo crying because it is the evening her son is to be executed for rape and murder. He asks, "doesn't he deserve it?" She tries to explain that her
Jonathan Osser
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son is "a good boy", but the boy has no idea of the emotional impact of the moment. After a pause of what he thinks is an appropriate time for grieving, he asks her to clean up his spilled grape juice. Such juxtapositions of different people's realities - and their oblivion of the others' - is most satirical indeed. It is so exceedingly funny and terrible at the same time, that it becomes terribly funny.

As with his other movies, Storytelling isn't for everyone. Many are often offended by his directness and caustic perceptions of the human condition, which is what often keeps his films out of mainstream theaters, and tucked away deep inside art-movie houses. But, to those with a sophisticated appreciation for extreme satire, Solondz's fans will be most pleased.

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