A review of “Full Frontal” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language, sexual content

Run Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

 

 

Director Steven Soderbergh’s ode to the dirty underbelly of Hollywood is fraught with character confusion – but is ultimately worth the effort.

I mean effort with a capital E.  This is a big, sloppy ensemble comedy that makes “Memento” look clear-cut.  The production notes offer the following synopsis pointers: “Linda would love to be loved.  Carl loves his wife Lee.  Lee is looking to be loved by Calvin.  Calvin plays Nicholas who discovers he’s in love with Catherine.  Catherine, who is really Francesca, finds true love and Gus loves himself”.  Confused? You should be.

Los Angeles is the stage for seven friends dealing with the complications of love, life, and complicated relationships.  Art imitates life, or vice-versa, as storytelling wizard Soderbergh parallels reality with the on-set production of a Hollywood movie.  Reality in this case is filmed digitally, in a bright, dizzying hand-held style that distracts from the human vortex.  The film-within-a-film is in glorious Technicolor, and the distinction offers small clues as to time and place.

It’s an amusing day-in-the-life of the restless residents of the City of Angels. By dropping us in on the middle of a perpetual melodrama, Soderbergh makes his point the hard way. Okay, they’re smug, they’re beautiful, and they’re desperately unhappy. More than halfway through, I was still thinking “self-indulgent, narcissistic Hollywood pabulum”.  Ultimately, I was won over by the tenuously tuned six degrees of separation, and the very real message that people are people, no matter where you put them.

Performances are earnest and straightforward, if somewhat lost in a narrative muddle.  Catherine Keener (as Human Resources VP Lee) gives her bitterest performance to date – all brittle female angst.  Julia Roberts romps through her Catherine/Francesca (movie/reality) with improvisational glee.  Clever turns by Nicky Katt (as a contemporary, theatrical Hitler) and David Duchovny (as slimeball producer Gus) lend comic relief. Blair Underwood, Mary McCormack, and David Hyde Pierce round out the talented ensemble.

Shot in only eighteen days, “Full Frontal” oozes a low-budget indie feel.  Lovers of the straightforward should skip it.  If you’re into puzzling intellectual exercise coupled with the elusive search for true love, this is your movie.