Two separate stories are told against the backdrop of college and high school. In 'Fiction', college writing student Vi (Selma Blair) has a troubled relationship with cerebral palsy sufferer Marcus (Leo Fitzpatrick) and finds herself attracted to the lecturing Professor Scott (Robert Wisdom), a Pulitzer Prize-winning black author. In 'Non-Fiction' would-be filmmaker Toby (Paul Giamatti) convinces high school dope-head Scooby Livingston to be the subject of his documentary about the pressure of college entry exams. As filming progresses the focus shifts to the tension within Scooby's family.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
Todd Solondz writes the unspeakable and films the unthinkable. He is one of the few genuine auteurs working in cinema today. By that I mean specifically that his work is instantly and distinctly recognisable. Like Peter Greenaway and David Lynch, Solondz creates a world on screen that could not be confused with anyone else's. The only reference point for Storytelling is Solondz's previous film Happiness but don't imagine that he's simply making more of the same. His characters remain neurotic and insecure but the territory here is even darker and bleaker. Divided into two totally unrelated stories (don't seek a hidden connection, there isn't one Solondz advises), Storytelling focuses primarily on sex and the creative urge. With arresting intelligence and raw boned honesty he examines how the sexual urges of these characters are related to their creativity. Student Vi (Selma Blair) casts her cerebral palsy-suffering boyfriend aside for dangerous sexual adventure offered by celebrated writer Scott (Robert Wisdom) - a formidable man whose creativity guarantees him a steady supply of nubile flesh. In the second story the pathetic Toby (Paul Giametti) is inspired by lusty thoughts of a high school classmate to finally realise his dream of becoming a documentary maker. It's a harsh, razor sharp microscope Solondz places over these characters and he's not afraid to involve them in issues including rape, homosexuality, voyeurism and in one sequence, the Holocaust. Listening to pot-head Scooby argue that his family owes its existence to Hitler is just one of the many memorable moments in a film that is as brave as it is smart. Films like Storytelling and directors like Solondz are important because we need to think about the most basic instincts that drive us. Storytelling does that with a searing intensity that belongs in a class of its own. See it.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I see Richard’s point(s) but I find myself distanced by Solondz here. At the risk of being virtually stoned to critical death, I suggest that Solondz errs in cinematic terms by the same magnitude of error as does much of Hollywood we often deride: he’s made a posture not a picture. Like the cerebral palsy suffering Marcus, who is not at all credible, which makes his love scene utterly exploitative. In fact, I find none of it believable enough to hear the sizzle of scorched sinners’ flesh. The links he draws between sex and creativity are so banal as to be boring, and the script is entirely manufactured with characterisations that belong in junior writing workshops, not in finished films. He’s trying to show us the victims of physical and emotional crushing by American society and it’s painful – but too studied.
Review by Louise Keller:
Storytelling is a film that takes your breath away. It is far from being a predictable Hollywood tale, glazed with gloss and carefully manipulated happy endings. Todd Solondz has a particular take on life, and Storytelling looks at life from a pretty grim angle. The film is interesting in that although the two stories are not connected, we are so absorbed in the unpredictability of both, that it really doesn’t matter. Truth is stranger than fiction, we are always told. In this case, both fiction and non-fiction are quite extraordinary, and the characters in both halves shock in so many ways, that they not only keep us engrossed, but offer plenty of food for thought. Solondz’s work exemplifies life’s ironies, and you will not forget the characters are drawn strongly and will stay etched in your memory bank. Offering strong observations about handicaps and race, the first story called ‘fiction’ explores sex. In the opening scene, we meet Vi, an aspiring student writer with bright pink hair (Selma Blair, vital) copulating with a classmate who has cerebral palsy. We meet them again in the context of the classroom, and by the time Vi goes home with her professor, we begin to understand the point that Solondz is making. The story called ‘non-fiction’ takes us on an equally disturbing and ugly trip, opening our eyes to a particularly negative viewpoint – from the would-be documentary maker (Paul Giamatti, superb) whose subject Scooby just ‘wants to be famous’ to the tragic housemaid whose actions ironically make Scooby’s dreams come true. Truly thought provoking cinema, Storytelling is sharp, cutting satire at its most stimulating.
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CAST: Selma Blair, Leo Fitzpatrick, Robert Wisdom, Maria Thayer, Angela Goethals, Paul Giamatti
PRODUCER: Ted Hope, Christine Vachon
DIRECTOR: Todd Solondz
SCRIPT: Todd Solondz
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Frederick Elmes
EDITOR: Alan Oxman
MUSIC: Nathan Larsson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: James Chinlund
RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 9, 2002
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow HOme Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: November 27, 2002