Directed by Todd Solondz. Starring Selma Blair, Robert Wisdom, Paul Giamatti, John Goodman and Mark Webber.
An exploration of sex, race, celebrity, ambition and exploitation, 'Storytelling' consists of two seemingly unrelated stories entitled 'Fiction' and 'Non-Fiction'. Although the stories are different in narrative, they are connected thematically: director Todd Solondz ('Happiness' and 'Welcome to the Dollhouse') probes and exposes different stereotypes in American society – the black male, the naïve young white girl, the aspiring teenager and the honest artist. The result forces us to question not only the absurdity of stereotypes, but more importantly, how stereotypes are formed and, subsequently, sustained by American society.
'Fiction' examines the relationships between creative writing professor Mr Scott (Wisdom) – the black male – and three of his students. A one-time Pulitzer-Prize winner, Scott has been unable to move up the career ladder despite his achievements. He takes his frustration out on his young students by seducing them.
A needy young white student in complete awe of Mr Scott, Vi (Blair) approaches him and returns to his apartment. During their sexual encounter the professor acts out the part of the angry, potent, and sexualised black figure; afterwards Selma feels betrayed and used. Through her writing assignments for Mr Scott she relates the experience to the class, accusing the professor of rape.
'Non-Fiction' predominantly concerns two characters. Toby (Giamatti), a sincere but unfulfilled man in his 30s, sets out to make a documentary about high school students approaching their college entry exams. He manages to convince a detached and seemingly aimless teenager Scooby (Weber) to be his main subject. Following Scooby and his family over several weeks, Toby develops an honest concern for them. However, he cannot avoid exploiting them no matter how genuine his motives, simply because he is filming them; raw footage always goes through a certain amount of manipulation in the editing process.
Both stories set out to explore the notion of cultural lies – how a society can lie to itself, how individuals lie to themselves and to those around them. What's brilliant about Solondz' treatment of his themes is that he manages to grapple with the serious issues of race, sex, and exploitation and still provide a bundle of laughs.
Humorous, bold, shocking and disturbing, 'Storytelling' horrifies in one scene immediately throwing the audience into giggles in the next. With a sharp script and great performances all round this is a real treat.