American Fiction movie poster

American Fiction

In theaters December 22, 2023

Rated

,

117 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , , , ,

Every now and then a movie surprises you. I mean catches you so off guard that you don’t know what hit you. Sure, walking into American Fiction with little knowledge of it beyond viewing the 2-minute trailer likely helped, but rarely are there films that so successfully encompass equal parts: intelligence, humor, warmth, and, drama. Based on Percival Everett’s 2001 novel Erasure, first time director Cord Jefferson’s premiere film is an all-around triumph.

Published author and professor, Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jefffrey Wright) is a bitter man. He can’t find a publisher for his most recent book, he’s grown tired of the stupidity of the students in his class, and on top of all of that, he is headed home to visit his family – a task he dreads more than being forced to spend time with his students and colleagues, the latter which are about to upend his life more than he ever expected.

Above all else, Monk desires to write books that change people’s lives, but instead he’s met with rejection after rejection, sitting on the sidelines while America opts for titles like Sinatra Golden’s debut novel (Issa Rae) We’s Lives In Da Ghetto, a book written in Ebonics that he views as perpetuating stereotypes of African Americans.

During an already less than desired visit home to see his family, Monk is met with a tragedy that forces him to care for his mother Agnes (Leslie Uggams) who is struggling with Alzheimer’s. That task only grows more difficult with the little support he receives from his recently divorced and out brother, Cliff (Sterling K. Brown), who, when given the choice, prefers to play with his boy toys than step up to assist Monk in their mother’s caregiving.

All is not lost for Monk, however, when he meets and falls for neighbor Coraline (Erika Alexander). But Monk being Monk, he can’t get over the fact that people would prefer a trashy novel over his passed over book. In response to the reception that Golden’s novel has received, Monk writes a parody of black culture titled My Pafology under the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh and forces his agent to submit it with the expectation that the book will never see the light of day. The opposite occurs and Monk’s joke novel is feted by numerous publishers, optioned to be adapted into a movie, and all of America wants to meet the man behind the pages. What follows are laughs, tears, and everything in between as Monk attempts to balance a relationship, his family dynamics, and being a celebrity that no one can know about.

American Fiction tackles a number of themes including the exploitation of black America, the ridiculousness of Hollywood and the publishing industry, the absurdity of today’s woke society, and the overall dumbing down of our country. It’s satire at its best.

In addition to a Best Movie nod and director nomination for Jefferson, don’t be surprised to also see a Best Actor nomination for Wright and Best Supporting Actor nominations for Sterling K. Brown and perhaps even Adam Brody. Wright for the first time steps into a lead role and America is the winner even if he doesn’t walk away with the trophy. Winner of three Emmy Awards, Brown showcases his talents beyond the small screen earning laughs and empathy as he proudly lives the life he’s yearned to live. Brody, in his best role yet, stars as movie producer Wiley, makes the most of every scene he’s in and is at his career best. Add in outstanding performances by Tracee Ellis Ross, Erika Alexander, Myra Lucretia Taylor, and Leslie Uggams, and you have one of the best ensemble casts of 2023.

2023 was a tough year for the movie industry still recovering from the pandemic and both a writers and actors strike, but the industry seems to be hitting its stride late in the year with releases like American Fiction and The Holdovers – films that remind you that despite the hundreds of dreadful films released every year, all it takes is a film or two to erase all of the mishaps along the way.

American Fiction is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Mark Eaton
Mark is an entertainment junkie, spending much of his leisure time watching movies, TV, or listening to any and all genres of music. Most evenings, after finishing a day of work and hanging with his wife and kids, Mark can be found in an eternal battle with his DVR, trying to clear it before another 5-6 hours of shows are recorded the next day. Still reeling from his unpaid gig for the Detroit News where he was fired for being too cruel with his American Idol recaps, Mark is thrilled to be sharing his wicked sense of humor with Movie Reelists.

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