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IN SHORT: Indie auteur indulgence raises its ugly head. [Rated R for language and some sexual content. 105 minutes]
Imagine this: a movie within a movie, all within yet another movie, and a stage play within the all encompassing first movie. Now, imagine a director determined to shoot most of the thing, the "real life" sequences comprising the all-encompassing movie, in badly over exposed and almost out of focus video -- lots of grain, lots of muted hushed blues and brown colors, signifying the multiple midlife crises that permeate the script -- and toss in every film school editing trick that should have been left behind back in film school.
Yep, we've been writing about this on and off for a couple of months. There are some folks who just can't let the indie arthouse stuff go. Director Steven Soderbergh has been on the fence about that. When he's great you get Traffic or Erin Brockovich. When he's not so great you get a controversial film such as sex lies and videotape, an only-arthouse film that broke out because of content, great visual style and great word of mouth. Full Frontal, a return to that hard-edged jump-cut style, doesn't pack the same punch. It's all film student gimmicks utilizing obscure layers of story so deep that no one screening will reveal its true intentions. You'd be better off peeling an onion.
Or you can let Cranky explain that Full Frontal is a series of soundless screams rising from the LA basin, crossing lines of economic class and race, all of which focus on that awful realization that (you're) forty and (you're) all alone. Add to it a stage play about Hitler, cleverly titled "The Sound and the Fuhrer" in which Hitler rants that all he'll be remembered for is his Charlie Chaplin mustache -- and the shot on film within the film, called "Rendezvous" in which actress Francesca Davis (age 33, played by Julia Roberts) plays a reporter named Catherine who falls for an African-American acting star she is assigned to profile. We're inside the movie, folks. Hold on 'cuz it gets confusing. The inside the movie star, Nicholas, is played by Calvin Cummings (36, Blair Underwood). Cummings will rear his head later in the all-encompassing flick. There's no midlife crisis in this film within the film, but there is an A-list star who allows himself to be made a fool of. Good for Mr. Aniston . . .
But as to the rest of that midlife crisis stuff: Carl Bright (42, David Hyde Pierce) desperately loves his wife Lee (41, Catherine Keener) who begins this film by writing a note saying she wants out of the marriage. Carl's thinning hair, at least to him, represents his diminished masculinity. Lee's hot and nasty affair with an up and coming African American film star -- Calvin -- has got her thinking there must be more to life than marriage to a guy with thinning hair. Lee's sister, Linda (36, Mary McCormack) still hasn't found Mr. Right and, with her biological clock ticking like rapidly repeating dynamite detonations, Linda will jet off to Tucson for a weekend with a way too young painter (22) she met in an Internet chat room. What she doesn't know is that the painter is 40-ish writer/director Arty (Enrico Colantoni), whose latest stage opus, "The Sound and the Fuhrer" (Nicky Katt as Hitler) is giving him agita. Colantoni has another role in the film within the film but hell if we know what it is.
Most of the above are invited to the 40th birthday party of a famous NY producer named Gus (David Duchovny), who propositioned Linda earlier in the day and, in grand Hollywood style, doesn't show for his own shindig. Why he doesn't show unleashes an avalanche of emotion which sets things clear for a lot of the abovementioned characters. That being said, we didn't care.
We didn't care because Soderbergh, in true auteur Indie King form, violates everything our film school teachers screamed at us about telling a story. That is, "First and Foremost, tell the story. Everything else is crap." Full Frontal is so packed with that visual crap that within an hour our feet, individually depending on how we crossed our legs, were wagging furiously. Full Frontal traverses a day in the lives of all of its characters, moving steadily towards the climactic party in celebration of Gus' 40th. Few of the characters know each other. Just about all of 'em cross paths in one form or another, one in a car driving by the theater staging "Fuhrer," and all but one will meet in the best tradition of Fellini. At the party. Even in our wide eyed film school days we didn't like Fellini. We understood the concept but we're just too dumb to appreciate this arthouse stuff.
Of course, we could be wrong. Sometimes those of us on the outside dream that all is wonderful in the movies. "We spent the weekend together. It was like the movies" states one character as the camera pulls back to reveal . . . no, that would be telling. It's a Third Act screw with your senses move that, were we of the slavering arthouse mindset, may have sent us into paroxysms of deep intellectual thought like the filmstudents on either side of us who wouldn't move until the lights came up.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Full Frontal, he would have paid . . .
Rent it so you can play it a zillion times if you wish to peel the onion. Full Frontal is OK for anyone who likes most of a director's output to take the chance and allow (himself) to get hit by the proverbial wall. We're just a dumb joe who's happy if a serious movie affects him in some emotional way. Yeah, we're facing midlife crisis, too. No, Full Frontal had no effect and elicited no sympathies for any of the characters. By that measure, it is a failure.
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