|Selma Blair, John Goodman, Paul Giamatti, Xander Berkeley, Mark Webber, Lupe Ontiveros, Franka Potente
|May 9, 2002
People are pretty complicated but you wouldn’t know that if the only thing you did in your life was watch movies. On camera, it seems everyone looks like a million dollars, everyone can read minds and everyone is predictable. There have been some (but not many) films that contradict this theory and an example which springs to mind in American Beauty. It showed that no one is as simple as black and white. Everyone is just a different shade of grey.
Storytelling is made by a director who has recent established cult-status, Todd Solondz. His only two other films, Welcome To The Dollhouse and Happiness were praised by critics for their deeply rich studies of human complexities. This film has similar traits but once senses Solondz isn’t happy with this finished product.
The film is quite unique. It is actually two completely unrelated short stories. The first is about a struggling English Literature student who has an intellectually handicapped boyfriend. At a bar, she bumps into one of her lecturers, an African-American Pulitzer Prize winning writer. The two then go back to his house, have rough sex, and the experience gives her the platform to explore new emotions in her writing.
The second story is longer and more expansive. It is about a sexually confused teenager in his final year of school who is being pressured by his wealthy parents to knuckle down and get into college. His only identifiable aim in life is to be on television and when approached by a pathetic loser trying to make a film documentary about adolescent troubles, he allows both his life to be captured on camera.
There is a lot missing from this film thanks to studio intervention. The original cut featured a homosexual sex scene involving Dawson’s Creek’s James Van Der Beek which was removed from the film due to “creative differences”. Also, there is a sex scene which was ordered to be removed by the censorship board before the film could be screened. Refusing to concede to their demands, Solondz stuck a big red box over the “explicit” part of the scene as a smart-ass compromise. I applaud him and thankfully, the Australian censors approved the scene without the red box.
So why are there two stories rather than just one? The adventurous Solondz has the same fundamentals in both stories and describes Storytelling as a “two-paneled painting”. You can look at two different impressions of his “message” from two completely different angles. Certainly a fresh idea.
As I hinted at earlier, this film is about the characters. They are an erratic mix of personalities and you’ll oscillate back and forth in your impressions about them. Can they be helped or are they beyond help? Should we feel sorry for them? Are they just a bunch of idiots? My opinions were changing every five minutes and the doubt which clouded my mind was certainly an unaccustomed feeling whilst sitting in a darkened theatre.
I suspect most readers haven’t seen either Happiness or Welcome To The Dollhouse nor will have time to sneak to the Dendy to catch Storytelling. But they are three amazing films that may upset your emotional apple cart. They go way beyond the one-dimensional world created by Hollywood and into a new world of disturbing realism.