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Monday 4 March 2024

American Fiction, Film (US 2023) written & directed by Cord Jefferson 9* out of 10

An excellently written screenplay and a great cast led by the outstanding Jeffrey Wright make the prize-winning Oscar-nominated American Fiction the most intelligently funny, moving, and entertaining film that has come to our cinema screens. Too witty to be just "feel-good" it makes you feel good, nonetheless.

Thelonious "Monk" Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) an African American writer and academic, teaches creative writing at a liberal arts university in Los Angeles. His writing, demeanour, and contrarian views on the relevance of identity politics and, in his case, specifically black identity politics as seen by America's white liberal elites and their black allies express themselves in his teaching which leads to his being suspended in his teaching job and sent to a literary festival in Boston. He attends the well-attended presentation of a book written in the black ghetto vernacular by a young black woman -author Sintara Golden (Issa Rae) with some disbelief and disdain, but it leaves a deep impression on him.

As he originally hails from near Washington DC, he uses his presence on the East Coast to catch up with his family, from which he has distanced himself. He finds his sister Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross), a Medical Doctor working in a family planning clinic having to deal with their mother's deteriorating health. Reluctantly he must become involved with addressing this issue. He also meets his neighbour Coraline (Erika Alexander) a plucky and intelligent public defence lawyer and potential romantic interest.

The excellent script by Cord Jefferson is based on the outstanding novel Erasure by Percival Everett. It manages to meld family drama, romance, comedy and ironic but not cynical satire into a plausible whole. The family drama is moving, the romance is low-key and credible, the comedy is funny, and the satire of the liberal literary and academic milieu is witty and at times hilarious. All the pieces of American Fiction work severally and jointly because the writing pays attention and empathy to the humanity of all the characters and distributes the many good lines widely among them, making the different characters interesting. This in turn is a gift for the strong ensemble of actors led brilliantly by Jeffrey Wright and including Tracee Ellis Ross, John Ortiz, and Erika Alexander. As the main character's first name is Thelonious after Jazz-legend Thelonious Monk the very jazzy score is fitting too. 

In a year short of good news, American Fiction is the most intelligently witty, moving, and entertaining film that has come to our cinema screens. Highly recommended.

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