The year 2000 was a great year for Steven Soderbergh. In that year, he was nominated for Best Director for both Erin Brockovich and Traffic. In 2001, he followed with the critical and box office success Ocean's Eleven. In 2002, he stumbled, fell and bumped his chin. Solaris opened to a mixed reception and empty theaters, much like his independent film Full Frontal did a few months earlier. Why? Well, this is a movie review, right?
Full Frontal tells the story of a variety of different people, all involved with show business in some way or another. Julia Roberts is a famous actress who is being interviewed by a reporter (Blair Underwood), and there seems to be something else going on under the surface. A successful couple (David Hyde Pierce and Catherine Keener) are less than successful when it comes to marriage. A stage director (Enrico Colantoni) is working on the debut of his artistic play about Hitler (Nicky Katt). And let's not forget the birthday boy (David Duchovny), who's party all of these people are coming to in a matter of hours...
Soderbergh's return to independent roots (namely Sex, Lies and Videotapes, which I haven't seen) is an interesting tale of blended stories that perhaps overlap only a little bit, but all share in the same theme. Some of the stories are more interesting than others (Julia Roberts and Blair Underwood's storyline isn't very interesting, while David Hyde Pierce and Catherine Keener's is quite the opposite).
It obviously isn't for everyone, since there are audiences that enjoy ensemble stories and audiences that prefer central characters. There are probably few that would say that Full Frontal is an astounding film, because it really isn't. It has its entertainment factor, and it churns out goof performances from Pierce, Colantoni and Keener, but it does not have the power nor the key elements to rate as anything other than an average movie.
The problem with Full Frontal is that it never really accomplishes anything. Yes, it goes through a day in the life of many people, and things do happen that affect their lives, but are any of these stories really important enough to put on the big screen? People will have conflicting opinions. I would say that some do and some don't, but together, the result is not overly impressive.
The flaws of Full Frontal stem from the flaws of independent films. While there are plenty of excellent independent films, there are a plethora of films that just plain suck (of course, most of the films that reach theaters in any sense have surpassed the majority of crap that is out there). I think independent films thrive off of the fact that they are called as such, and so they can do things differently than mainstream movies. That is all good, except when such films as Full Frontal focus so much on having an independent look that they forget to have focus. An independent film is not good just because it is an independent film; it still has to have a plot, have a theme, and interesting scenes to tie everything together.
Full Frontal has all those aspects, but in a limited sense. I enjoyed the movie, but would not watch it again. It has its interesting and funny moments, but for every one of those it has a boring scene as well.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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