American Fiction | Review by: Gal Balaban

 First-time director Cord Jefferson has created a laugh-out-loud satire that mirrors the world of entertainment we live in, but also balances the family drama elements strongly. Jeffrey Wright gives a career-best performance in a project that feels like it's finally utilizing and exercising the beloved character actor's talents to their full extent. Wright leans into the script's "straight comedy" elements of Monk adopting an alias and putting up with his frustrations with the industry, but he also gives the film a lot of emotional gravitas that's needed to feel for Monk as a human being. Sterling K. Brown is hysterical as Monk's goofier younger brother who steals the scene just by being there and acting so out there, while Issa Rae and Erika Alexander also give strong supporting performances, not to mention the entertaining dynamic between Monk and his agent played by John Ortiz.

The film cleverly takes a meta approach to modern-day media consumption and the idea that the public will eat up any story about minority communities as long as they bathe in trauma and suffering. Jefferson's script takes on the popularity of films like Boyz n the HoodPrecious, and many others in the idea that limiting black voices to black pain or pitiful stereotypes may make the culture overlook stories from black artists that don't delve into such melodrama. The film jabs at the fact that for years, many black roles were slaves, gang members, or citizens of poor neighborhoods and that there's so much more to black characters and stories -- and especially the idea of "woke" whites taking offense or defining the societal norms on behalf of minorities on such matters. There's plenty of food for thought in the clever approach the film takes to its satire but also laughs that sometimes come at you at a lighting speed, and nuanced characters who aren't defined by their race, as Jefferson proves, all while showing frustration at the way things are. It's as great of an audacious comedy as it is a character drama that offers a unique satirical voice with memorable performances from Wright and Brown.

Rating: 4/5

Review by: Gal Balaban 

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