by E.T. Robbins
Steven Soderbergh’s home movie. Come, enjoy the ennui.
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Are you sure you want to hear this? Okay. My 69-year-old mother saw Full Frontal with me and this was what she had to say (and I quote),
“What a waste of money, time, and energy. That was one of the stupidest movies I’ve seen in 70 years. I think the people in Hollywood are mocking us. They figure that if they put Julia Roberts in a film, people will go see it no matter how bad it is. The joke’s on us.”
And my personal favorite,
“I can’t wait to read what David Brudnoy has to say about this film. Although, it’s weird enough he might just like it.” (David Brudnoy has his own talk show on WBZ 1030, a local AM that on a clear evening reaches far beyond the boundaries of the Boston metro. Brudnoy is a respected film reviewer for TV, radio, and in print. Don’t worry; I’m used to my mother deferring to his reviews. I’m okay with it—nothing a little therapy can’t fix).
My sentiments regarding director Steven Soderbergh’s Full Frontal are similar to Mom’s, but not nearly as strong. I’ll admit that I’m blonde. But I hate films that make me feel blonde. I’m not talking about films that make you think like Memento, a fabulous film from last summer, or films that use interesting filming techniques to tell the story as in Traffic, a wonderful Soderbergh film that earned him a well-deserved Oscar. I’m talking about films that try so hard to be artsy that they end up being inane.
Not that the acting in Full Frontal was bad. It wasn’t. Problem was the story—or stories—were so convoluted, contrived, and just plain weird that the acting didn’t make much of a difference. There’s no doubt that Steven Soderbergh is a master writer and director. Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Out of Sight, and sex, lies, and videotape—the film that got him noticed in Tinsel Town—are evidence of this. Full Frontal, filmed in 18 days, looks and feels like a movie that was, well, filmed in 18 days.
As for the cast? Hollywood’s A-list in film and TV unite on one project. We have Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt (that’s three films and counting that they’ve appeared in together—Jennifer Aniston, be scared). Then there are the television greats: David Hyde Pierce, David Duchovny, Enrico Colantoni, and Blair Underwood (just to name a few). Sure, the members of this talented bunch have appeared in films, but it’s safe to say they are best known for their roles on Frasier, The X-Files, Just Shoot Me, and LA Law.
I would love to tell you the basic plot, but I’m still figuring it out. The tag line is “a movie about movies for people who love movies.” Uh-huh. Set in LA in a 24-hour timeframe, the movie follows the lives of seven people connected by one event, a birthday party for a Hollywood producer named Gus (David Duchovny). What’s interesting is that this ensemble cast is connected—many of them have appeared in a Soderbergh film at one time or another: Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich and Ocean’s 11, Brad Pitt in Ocean’s 11, Catherine Keener in Out of Sight, Nicky Katt in The Limey…the list goes on and on.
Carl (David Hyde Pierce as a somewhat mellow, less confident Niles Crane) is married to Lee (Catherine Keener) who is the Vice-President of HR at an unnamed agency and has unorthodox ways of, um, firing people. Lee is having an affair with Calvin (Blair Underwood) while Carl is worried that he’s going to get fired from his writing job and that his wife is going to leave him. He ends up confiding his anguish to his family veterinarian who makes house calls to dogs who ingest brownies laced with hash. Lee’s sister, Linda (Mary McCormack), is a masseuse looking for love in all the wrong places and ends up doing more than a massage for one insisting client. Meanwhile, we follow Calvin playing the role of Nicholas along with Catherine (Julia Roberts) who is playing the role of Francesca. Or is it Francesca playing the role of Catherine … um, well, you get the idea. Or maybe you don’t—that’s the problem.
And that, basically, is it. Minus one suicide, porn shop hold-ups, a play about Hitler, and a rendezvous in Tucson between Linda and Arty (the guy directing the Hitler play) who met in an Internet chat room and go by the names of Anne and Ed. When they do finally meet (not in Tucson, naturally), I let out a sigh of relief because I am able to follow this story line, right? Not for long. Screenwriter Coleman Hough throws another curve ball and I walk out of the theater listening to my mother’s “stupidest movie I’ve seen in 70 years” comment.
What bothers me most about this film is its potential. One would expect a better product from such a capable cast and excellent director. Instead, they flounder in a story with no merit.
My Mom scoffs at the amount of time I put into this review. She says,
“I can review it in two words: It stinks.”
I wonder what David Brudnoy would say to that.
E.T. Robbins is a freelance writer living in Boston, where she worked for a time at a local newspaper and at a local radio station.
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