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  American Fiction Family Fiction and Friction
Year: 2023
Director: Cord Jefferson
Stars: Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, John Ortiz
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: I need to acknowledge upfront that I am an able white, middle-class, cisgender male humanist, with no major life traumas (apart from the usual). I also live in Norfolk UK, which is not typically known for its diversity. So while I like to think of myself as inclusive, open and a generally decent human being, I cannot genuinely begin to understand the relative experiences and prejudices of other groups that I am not part of.

There are so many things to like about American Fiction, the directorial debut of Cord Jefferson, whose CV includes writing duties for TV series' Watchman and The Good Place, and consultant for Succession. Jefferson has production support from the team behind Knives Out including its director Rian Johnson, and it shows. Characters are lovable and/or grotesque but ultimately believable, and the storytelling is a step away from your typical drama-comedy structure.

While early trailers may suggest this is an 'issues' film, it is first and foremost a snapshot of a dysfunctional family, struggling to assimilate the past and move forwards, when they are thrown back together after years apart. The central character Thelonious 'Monk' Ellison, is a disillusioned professor who has to deal with revelations, illness and grief. This is on top of his personal struggles to be recognised simply as an author, rather than a 'black author' by a literary establishment that expects him only to write about 'black issues'.

The world-weary Monk is played beautifully by Jeffrey Wright, moving on from Bond's Felix Leiter, The Watcher in What If... and as Westworld's Bernard Lowe. The supporting cast includes Leslie Uggams, taking a break from Deadpool's Blind Al and an excellent cameo from Keith David.

Cord Jefferson adapted the film from the 2001 novel Erasure, written by Percival Everett. It is telling that a book with themes of racial prejudice written 23 years ago still has relevance today. However, Jefferson plays with the audiences expectations throughout, and at no point does the film feel preachy. First and foremost, it is an excellent story with plenty of surprises along the way. Family tensions are relatable, particularly the friction between Monk and his siblings. While some of the supporting white characters are a little cliched, their attitudes are all-too familiar as they stumble about, trying to be 'right-on' and inclusive. Jefferson also has some fun with a number of meta-moments, executed well without being too self-knowing.

While it has been nominated for several Oscars, being a comedy it is alas, unlikely to win any. But more importantly, this is a fun watch. You will laugh at the prejudices of others, as well as some of your own you may not care to admit to...
Reviewer: Mark Le Surf-hall

 

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