BY JACK RANSOM FEBRUARY 11, 2024
I only saw the trailer for this for the first time last month and was instantly hooked by the bitingly funny satirical tone and further intrigued by the subsequent handful of interviews that I had seen/heard with lead star Jeffrey Wright leading up to the film’s UK release. My expectations were met, as similarly to the excellent The Holdovers from earlier this year, American Fiction balances sharp tongued humour and weighty drama very effectively, as well as adding its own politically charged punch.
An adaptation of the novel, Erasure and the directorial debut of Cord Jefferson. American Fiction sees a novelist (Jeffrey Wright) fed up with the establishment profiting from Black entertainment uses a pen name to write a book that propels him into the heart of the hypocrisy and madness he claims to disdain.
The only slight criticism that I have, is that its messages and jabs are a touch familiar and on the nose at times, however the smart screenplay holds them back from coming off as repetitive. Monk’s continual bewilderment, disdain and irritation at the public’s obsession with the cliched portrayal of Black lifestyle’s is a consistently amusing and when he begins having to embrace the façade that he created leads to many a laugh out loud moment.
Alongside the snappy humour is some genuinely heart-wrenching and raw family drama on display. As we learn more about the background of the Ellison’s family and present day life events that deeply impact the characters (which I won’t go into too much detail about here, as the trailers haven’t touched on the aspects at all).
The performances are fantastic and elevate these already well rounded characters. Jeffrey Wright’s smart, perceptive, dry-witted and frequently condescending Monk is a great protagonist and Wright is superb. Sterling K. Brown is relishing playing his polar opposite as his reckless, immature, embittered and party loving brother. Tracee Ellis Ross, Erika Alexander, Leslie Uggams and Myra Lucretia Taylor make up a brilliant main supporting cast and John Ortiz is a provider of many laughs as Monk’s Agent, Ortiz.
American Fiction is an excellent satirical comedy drama that does a great job of balancing the laughs with poignant drama and messages. The performances are excellent, the pacing is consistently engaging and there are laughs aplenty. It does tread on some familiar ground, but the smart script bolsters these elements.