I'm all for a film that challenges the audience. Last year when I saw Mulholland Drive I trilled at the enigmatic twists and turns as Lynch turned everything we thought we understood about the characters upside down. I loved how the fractured pieces of Todd Solondz's Storytelling all sort of fit together, I loved how Memento took control of time and kept us playing along. But with all of those movies there was some sort of reward for the challenge, some thrill at putting all the puzzle pieces together, even if in the end everything didn't wrap up neatly into a perfect Hollywood ending.
There is no such joy in Steven Soderbergh's latest outing Full Frontal. A pretentious mess where the parts are the sum, and challenge is more a gimmick than anything else.
Full Frontal opens with an introduction to the characters of the film, all of which have been invited to Gus' fortieth birthday party. A photo and bio of each character is shown with a mumbly semi-self-confessional voice over from each. Then we see the beginning of a movie. As the opening credits start we see that it isn't Full Frontal but Rendezvous the apparent film within a film. Fake Credits roll and we see the beginning of this film (which is shot in beautiful, deeply saturated film). After the first scene plays it's cut away, and in its place is a grainy, overexposed digital video, where we follow the fractured and dysfunctional lives of the people introduced to us at the start of the film.
What's the relationship between the film within a film and the gritty digital video? You decide. It isn't some well woven device, but a gimmick, where the punchline is revealed in the final scene. Maybe this intercut between the highly polished film within a film and the gritty digital video 'film' is sort of message from Soderbergh that beneath the flashy Hollywood films he now makes is the heart of the Director who made Sex, Lies, and Videotape.
I guess my negative reaction to Full Frontal is partly because I think buried beneath a poor script and unsuccessful device is some really good work. I really enjoyed David Hyde Pierce as 'Carl' a guy who's entire world is always moments away from crashing down. Catherine Keener is great as 'Alice', a woman so dissatisfied with her world that she finds any and every way to mess with the people around her. Marry McCormick is great as a woman trying to find herself and her identity, and if you're a David Duchovny fan, you'll certainly find his role um 'unique'. The 'gritty' digital video part of this film reminded me a lot of Your Friends and Neighbors and on some level that was interesting. But as I mentioned before the film within a film really fractures that.
Maybe I'm also a victim of expectations. Full Frontal is a huge departure from any of Soderbergh's recent work and on some level I applaud him for taking the risk. Unfortunately I think he really fails, and perhaps his gained Hollywood film sensibilities result in the 'independent' effort being more forced than genuine.