American Fiction

Directed By Cord Jefferson

Starring – Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis-Ross, John Ortiz

The Plot – In Cord Jefferson’s directorial debut, which confronts our culture’s obsession with reducing people to outrageous stereotypes, Jeffrey Wright stars as Monk, a frustrated novelist who’s fed up with the establishment profiting from “Black” entertainment that relies on tired and offensive tropes. To prove his point, Monk uses a pen name to write an outlandish “Black” book of his own, a book that propels him to the heart of hypocrisy and the madness he claims to disdain.

Rated R for adult language throughout, some drug use, sexual references and brief violence

AMERICAN FICTION | Official Trailer – YouTube


Satire in the arts has always come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, but in “American Fiction”, it is ultimately defined by its color, which leads to a thought-provokingly uncomfortable dissection on the inner workings of multimedia, primarily with black depiction. This is where Jefferson’s fearless approach towards depiction pays off in spades, as not only does his brand of satire succeed because of its increments of truth that lead to a series of eye-opening discussions, but also in capably balancing the elements of humor and heart, which seem to know when to influence a scene at just the right moments. The comedy is my kind of flavoring, with dryly unapologetic deliveries that appraise an overwhelming vulnerability for its characters and their dire situations, and the dramatic heft constantly hangs overhead within these business dealings, conveying an outlining tragic factor in understanding that often goes over the heads of the white executives put in charge of these responsibilities. The dialogue is cunningly assertive, bringing to focus these meaningful conversations full of so much depth about the bigger picture conflicts, but also the many characters involved in this chapter, which help to breed an unshakeable element of heart and conscience to their versatile portrayals. It’s rare anymore that a writer has the capability to keep me hanging onto every word, but Jefferson illustrates the outlines in his narratives with enough to nuance so that the audience can meet him halfway, and this participation factor leads to some truly remarkable observations about the captivity that Hollywood and literature keeps its black characters contained in, with many echoings of the Tyler Perry brand of comedy, which the movie unapologetically pokes and prods towards. The performances are off the chart from the wide range of this highly talented ensemble, but especially in Wright, Sterling K. Brown and Issa Rae, who each invoke tangibilities in range between their respective against type portrayals. Brown in particular is the real scene-stealer here, continuously lashing out against a family that have only ever seen him in one way as one thing, all with this underlining rage subsiding just beneath the surface, which could easily erupt at any moment. Likewise, Issa Rae’s few scenes are among the most important of the experience, bringing a pathos to the ideals of a tortured artist that she never begs for empathy towards, instead using knowledge for her culture to be the change in the world that her character wishes to see. As for Wright, it’s certainly nothing new that he can hold a scene in the palm of his hand, but as Monk, Jeffrey feels like the manifestation of many decades of black victimization, handled sternly with his rich exubberance of caustic consistency that he unloads during the most impactful moments, all with Wright’s dependably methodical deliveries, which have made him an actor capable of handling not only an emotional versatility, but also the capability of saying so much with a single solitary look, which feels like a dying art among contemporary actors and actresses.


As for diminishing returns, “American Fiction” often feels a bit disjointed and hamfisted between two respective halves, with one of them bearing an obvious inferiority complex when held in contrast to an angle that Jefferson continuously knocks out of the park. The first and succesful side is obviously the aforementioned dissection into black depiction among the arts, which is sharp with so much irony that I constantly indulged upon it, but the weaker side is this family time drama between Monk’s many family members and corresponding outsiders, which took up a bit more time than I wished from this nearly two hour engagement. Because this side of things has so many character dynamics with their own conflicts and psychologies to play influence into the many tonal directions of the script, it leaves the script feeling a bit bloated in its deviation away from the satire, with many of these pocketed conflicts never receiving enough resolution to justify each of their summoning. In hindsight, I capably intepreted why these aspects were such a necessity to the character study of Monk, but I couldn’t escape this disinterest with his cultural background in contrast to the brilliance of industry insights, with certain juicy arcs of conflict between characters being initially promised but never materializing into the kind of dramatic impact needed in their journey. Besides this, my only other issue with the film pertained to its abrupt ending, with its own underlining message that the audience will either take merit towards, or will completely feel underwhelmed by. I myself understood what Jefferson was trying to convey with one particular piece of imagery during the closing moments, but as the exclamation point to the film and its many layers, it leaves slightly more to be desired, ending things on the kind of ominious note that feels incomplete for our characters and therefore undwerwhelming to the audience.

“American Fiction” is a bit unfocused in the deviations away from its scintillating satire, but thunderously triumphant performances from a stacked ensemble, as well as irresistible dialogue, leads towards a provocative debut for Jefferson that will inevitably grow stronger, the longer that people have had to sit with these unsettling observations. Wright has made a career out of memorable characters, but in Monk he’s never been better, solidifying a cold and clammy curmudgeon that makes him a real page-turner in approach.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

2 thoughts on “American Fiction

  1. I really enjoyed this movie, I would give it a B+. I think the family drama was needed to put some humanness into the film. I agree that it felt sometimes like two halves of a movie smooshed together. But I think it was needed to really understand Monk. I liked the multiple ending play on the narrative and it really left me thinking and wondering what was the real story. The humor was well played and there a few feel good moments that were really well done. Great performances and really interesting take on the race narrative / stereotypes in the arts. Best mystery movie I’ve seen so far. People should definitely see this movie, for the laughs and the intriguing story it tells.

  2. I did get a chance to check this one out as well, and I can’t deny that I actually liked it a bit more. Regardless of disjointed of the dual narrative that is certainly an issue, I still think that this movie has some of the best dialogue I’ve heard all year long and the sharp satire of depicting African American culture/experience in stereotypical ways was bold and blunt while also being extremely funny. I actually laughed harder in this than I did in at least 80% of the comedies I’ve seen this year that had a lot less to say than this one. It’s even more impressive when you remember that this is Cord Jefferson’s first film, and I really want to read the book it’s based on now that I’ve seen it. Such a great movie and you did a fantastic job dissecting it!

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