FULL FRONTAL (2002) 

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David Hyde Pierce
Catherine Keener
Mary McCormack
Julia Roberts
Blair Underwood
Enrico Colantoni
David Duchovny
Nicky Katt
Tracy Vilar
Brad Rowe

Steven Soderbergh



Time: 101 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama/Romance

I truly wanted nothing more than to really like this movie, but I just didn't. Soderbergh re-won my cinema respect with his visual stylings in the underrated OUT OF SIGHT. Though his choice of subject material since then hasn't always been to my taste, he's without a doubt one of the few directors working today pushing the envelope of the medium, even in his "studio pictures" like OCEAN'S ELEVEN. He returns to his quirky, indie beginnings with this day-in-the-life, film within a film, character study; however, the end doesn't justify the filmic machinations. Now that he's gone Hollywood, this flick seems to be his response to staying edgy, yet it's nothing but self-congratulatory mental masturbation. The cast seems to be enjoying the experience as well, giving their all to this motley group of characters, most of whom are unlikable at best. Their talent is all that keeps this wafer thin story afloat. Soderbergh claims he's playing with the audiences' notion of reality by moving back and forth between the grainy digital video sequences and the more pristinely shot 35mm scenes, but since when does anyone believe what they're going to see in a theater is real? It's a movie, no matter how it's presented.

The look of the DV scenes was more off-putting than anything, creating a contrast with the filmed sequences that, for me, made those scenes appear even more contrived. Regardless of style, all of the characters are looking to be loved and accepted for their true, sometimes wildly quirky, selves. Throughout the course of the day they all expose their vulnerable and ugly sides, while trying desperately to make them seem normal. Roberts and Underwood play actors co-starring in an interracial love story. Neither has found romantic success offscreen. The film within the film is about how black men in Hollywood are only allowed to be fighters, never lovers when it comes to movie roles. It's a pretty ballsy diatribe considering Soderbergh hasn't exactly been helping the situation with his films either. The tone is all in good fun, so though it brings up a very good point, we're made to laugh about it instead of demanding "justice." In the end, the "film" doesn't really have enough bite or romance to make those sequences worth all the effort. The "real" lives of the actors and all their acquaintances we meet during this day are far more interesting.

"You can't pretend that you are having sex with someone, when you are actually having sex with them."

The cast of characters includes: a deeply angry human resources executive (Keener) who wants out of her marriage; her clueless, passive magazine writer husband (Pierce); her hopeless-in-love massage therapist sister (McCormick); the sister's Internet date, who happens to be directing her brother-in-law's play (Colantoni); and the sexually deviant producer (Duchovny), whose birthday they're all meeting to celebrate his birthday. None of the characters is having a particularly good day. They are all muddling through, trying to dodge the worst live is throwing at them. Some, like Keener, lash out at other to relieve their stress, others turn to family and friends to salve the wounds. Some of the situations are funny, but most reveal sides to humanity we'd rather keep hidden. Keener character, in particular, is brutal to those around her, even her sister who's just trying to find something positive in her live. The scenes of her mentally torturing her co-workers are both funny and disturbing. Certainly one hopes to never encounter an HR person like her. The only genuinely funny scene has Roberts exposing the petty, arrogant side of her character. I'm sure there are plenty of assistants who can relate to her demands.

The film is a ticking time bomb of emotions and neuroses that finally comes to a head at the birthday party, when the guest of honor doesn't show. The reason is one you won't soon forget. It sends everyone scrambling for someone to hold onto, making them realize the fragility of life. Though they all find love, none of them seems too happy about it. Like they're waiting for the other shoe to fall, which I guess is the normal reaction when you think about it. The way he ends the film stresses the point that the more things change the more they stay the same. The question is: why bother if we're going to end up right where we started? Which is what's most annoying about watching this movie. Sure it makes you think about life and how you choose to present yourself to the world, but I was hoping for a little more insight than that. Perhaps if he had had an actual script this would have been more effective and engaging. It's certainly an interesting experiment about the human condition. I guess Soderbergh just wanted to keep the creative juices flowing between his big Hollywood films. The cutting back and forth between the DV and film adds style and visual interest to the movie, but not enough to really justify the process. FULL FRONTAL is not one of my favorite Soderbergh films, but, if you're a fan, you can see his sensibility all over it. Like all of the characters within it, it's a bit too self-indulgent for my tastes.

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