American Fiction 2023 movie

Could Cord Jefferson and Jeffrey Wright be the contemporary Scorsese and De Niro? There’s undeniably a cinematic magic unfolding between the debut director and the esteemed star in “American Fiction.”

Jefferson skillfully adapts Percival Everett’s 2001 novel “Erasure” into a razor-sharp satirical comedy (★★★½ out of four; rated R; currently in theaters in New York, LA, and Austin, expanding on Dec. 22). The film adeptly skewers Black storytelling tropes while delving into themes of race, pop culture, celebrity, and identity. Beyond its wry humor, with Wright delivering an enjoyably irascible performance, Jefferson seamlessly weaves in a dysfunctional family drama, adding emotional depth to the hilarity.

Meet Thelonius “Monk” Ellison, a cantankerous California academic who exasperates students and colleagues alike. A down-on-his-luck writer, Monk’s literature ends up in the African-American Studies section of bookstores, despite his protestations that “The Blackest thing about this one is the ink.”

Monk’s frustration grows as his agent (John Ortiz) insists on a “Black” tome, and he attends a Boston book festival where the celebrated writer Sintara Golden (Issa Rae) presents a best-selling novel riddled with Black stereotypes titled “We’s Lives in the Da Ghetto.”

Driven to chaos, Monk, as a jest, authors a book under the pen name “Stagg R. Leigh,” filled with deadbeat dads, rappers, crack, and other “Black stuff.” Much to his agent’s displeasure, a publishing house loves it, creating a buzz in the literary world. However, Monk faces a dilemma when he must promote the work of a “wanted fugitive.”

Simultaneously, Monk’s sister Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross) informs him that their mom Agnes (Leslie Uggams) is displaying signs of dementia. Monk takes on a more significant role in helping their scattered family and reconnecting with his estranged gay brother Cliff (Sterling K. Brown). Monk finds a confidante in next-door neighbor Coraline (Erika Alexander), and their budding romance is jeopardized by Monk’s literary charade and growing ego.

Jeffrey Wright, a fixture in films like “The Batman,” “The French Dispatch,” and this year’s “Asteroid City” and “Rustin,” consistently elevates every movie he’s in. An Emmy and Tony winner, Wright gives Monk intelligence, sarcastic wit, underlying vulnerability, and a well-meaning soul. While Monk could be unlikable in less capable hands, Wright infuses the character with complexity. Rae and Brown deliver standout performances, playing off Wright as Monk’s professional and personal foils.

The brilliant dialogue and interactions, ranging from funny to biting and always thoughtful, are the work of Cord Jefferson. “Fiction” marks the former TV writer (“The Good Place,” “Watchmen”) as a new cinematic voice to watch. Jefferson adeptly balances Monk’s faux novel escapades, including a clever scene where the writer interacts with his book’s characters, and the family strife. His social commentary is insightful, satirizing various people and situations while making salient points about the pigeonholing of Black artists and the importance of individuality. The plot takes a wild turn in the final act, embracing a more meta nature, but Jefferson brings it home with a pitch-perfect final gesture.

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By acinetv