American Fiction (2023) Movie Review – A meta-comedy that challenges societal norms

A meta-comedy that challenges societal norms

Having written for successful shows like The Good Place and Succession, screenwriter Cord Jefferson makes his directorial debut with American Fiction, a comedy that packs a punch. It also has a starry cast including Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown, John Ortiz and Erika Alexander.

A black comedy (no pun intended), it focuses on Monk Ellison, a well-to-do Black writer who is tired of the publishing industry pigeonholing Black writers into the “African American experience”. But when his next satirical piece on Black stereotypes is taken seriously, he suddenly becomes a best-seller and decides to go with the flow just to see how far the industry will go. Unfortunately, he is unable to see the biggest hurdle that comes his way, his own frustration and stubbornness.

Jeffrey Wright plays Monk, a Black writer who “doesn’t believe in race.” He doesn’t understand why publishers keep asking him to make his work “more Black.” His satire is taken seriously, and just to give it a try he decides to embrace the persona of a stereotypical Black man. And while this is clearly the setting for a comedy, it also gives us some hard-hitting philosophy.

Issa Rae’s Sintara, the rival author who panders to the masses, is the standard voice, of why representation is important. Then we have Monk, who does accept it in the end but gives a new thought to this ongoing discussion. 

American Fiction delves into how the African American experience has changed literature, how it is needed but how it also forces Black writers to write in a certain way if they want to be successful. It reduces their identity to stereotypes. Along with their usual struggles, and racial and classist themes, there is diversity even in the African-American community.

Black writers also have other stories to tell, they are more than the poor, ghetto Black man, just like what we get with the plot of American Fiction which is about a well-to-do Black writer and his frustrations with the publishing industry. To prove this argument, the movie is also a dig at the current publishing trends, marketing gimmicks, author rivalry and embracing homosexuality in the face of rejection.

Along with the strong message, the movie also keeps it pretty fun and engaging. Monk’s characters enact the scenes instead of him reading them aloud. It keeps breaking the fourth wall where the characters discuss with Monk what they should do next which is entertaining while also allowing viewers to understand what it is that Monk and his story stand for.

We also get the right amount of wittiness and realistic banter from the sibling dynamic between the Ellisons. However, as a screenwriter, we can’t help but wonder why Cord Jefferson, who insists on fleshing out literary characters via Monk, does not do the same for the secondary characters of American Fiction.

Sure, we get a three-dimensional anti-hero from Monk, but his siblings, Cliff and Lisa, his girlfriend, Coraline, and even his mother, Agnes, they are all props, plot devices for his story. Their actors do their best and breathe life into them as cinematic characters, which is why it is a bummer that these characters are not as well-rounded as one would have expected.

But other than that, the story unfolds with an easy-going pacing that will have viewers hooked from start to finish. Here is a worthwhile watch for those interested in thought-provoking comedies that challenge societal norms.

Read More: American Fiction Ending Explained

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  • Verdict - 7.5/10

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