Two stories in one film: First up, college creative writing student Selma Blair abandons her cerebral palsy suffering boyfriend (Leo Fitzpatrick) for her pretentious African-American professor (Robert Wisdom), who likes it a bit rough and with extra racial epithets. In the second story, wannabe documentarian Paul Giamatti thinks he’s found an excellent subject in slacker Mark Webber, filming him and his barely functioning family (Demanding father John Goodman, clueless mother Julie Hagerty). Dad wants Webber to try and get into college, and Giamatti sees potential in this. Because he’s a tool. Webber has no scholastic ambition (nor much aptitude for it), and wants to be a late night TV host like his hero Conan O’Brien. Franka Potente plays Giamatti’s co-worker, and Mary Lynn Raskjub is Blair’s roommate in the first story.
Writer-director Todd Solondz shows himself to be a one-trick pony with this 2002 drama that once again tries to shock for the sake of it. I wasn’t a fan of his “Happiness” and here he just reminds you how much better everyone else is at making these contemporary American adult dramas about unsavoury subjects (“American Beauty”, “Magnolia”, “In the Bedroom”, etc.) or dark comedies, as some seem to view them (If so, this may be the darkest of dark comedies I’ve seen). That’s because those films and their makers were working with more substance and purpose. Solondz just wants to give us Selma Blair being rear-ended by her African-American teacher whilst shouting provocative racial/sexual phrases that I won’t relay here. Robert Wisdom is hilariously callous and egotistical as the teacher, but the rest of the segment sucks. One might commend Solondz for creating a character with cerebral palsy and allowing him to have a romance in the film. That is, until you realise it’s only there for shock value when heartless and selfish Selma Blair dumps the poor guy. Having characters even bring up the idea of shock value doesn’t make you smart, Mr. Solondz, it makes you a bit of a douche. You’re not as clever as you think you are, and this film ends up being much ado about nothing.
The gimmick of two major stories in one (One labelled Fiction, the other labelled Non-Fiction. I don’t know why, either) is just that, a gimmick. I couldn’t see a connection between the two, outside of maybe a scholastic one, and even that is a stretch. Then again this is a film asking us to believe that Selma Blair could play a college student. Sure, I was a few years older than the norm at Uni, but wasn’t Blair already in her 30s when she starred in “Cruel Intentions”? As for the second segment, Paul Giamatti is excellent and Julie Hagerty is hilariously air-headed (We’re all survivors of the holocaust, apparently), but neither half of this film seemed to have a point (Don’t even get me started on the kid brother having conversations with the maid that no one his age would ever have with anyone let alone the maid), nor did I discern an overall one, either.
Entertainment value is scarce, as there’s barely a relatable character around, and nothing about the two halves convinces as any kind of reality. It was cool to see loveable stoner Mike Schank (“American Movie”) as a cameraman, and Steve Railsback plays the creepiest school principal of all-time, but whatever this is, I didn’t get it (It’s not even anywhere near as controversial as “Happiness”), and outside of a couple of performances and seeing Selma Blair’s tits in the opening scene, I didn’t much like it. Worst sin of all are the brightly coloured credits that occasionally clash and are hard to read. Doesn’t anyone check these things before the film is in theatres?