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Home > ‘American Fiction’ (2023): A Review

‘American Fiction’ (2023): A Review

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A dark comedy that cements itself as a classic

American Fiction defies all expectations and manages to be quick-witted with its comedy and in-depth with its dramatic beats. Inspired by the 2001 novel Erasure by Percival Everett, the film details the life of the main character, Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, whom Jeffrey Wright portrays as a writer who has yet to make it big despite his raw talent.

After Monk views a reading by Issa Rae’s character Sintara Golden that he views as a stereotypical “black” book, he decides to make his own out of spite, inadvertently garners an audience, and gains widespread fame under his pseudonym. Monk then has to deal with the overreliance on the stereotype and determine whether or not this is the type of writer he wishes to be. In a combination of support and self-acknowledgement, Monk begins to wonder what truly matters to him – his identity or influence.

The “It” Factor

This film is the definition of the “it factor.” Written and directed by Cord Jefferson, the film is a beautiful combination of genres that culminates in a darkly comedic drama about a family that centers around loss – of oneself and one’s loved ones. The theme is also presented entirely respectfully, with the topics of dementia, queerness, and late-age love all being given the proper time to be explored by the narrative. 

Along with its cast, the writing is spectacular, capturing a middle-class family with ease and skill. The familial dynamics of the movie are necessary as it’s very rare that we see a black middle-class family with their accolades, with Monk, Clifford, and Lisa all having doctorates. They never fall into stereotypes often thrust upon black people, like what Monk and Golden present in their works. Watching this in theaters was truly an experience everyone must go through, as the audience makes the movie what it is. There is no denying this film is art, a true masterclass in juggling genres – but watching it with others makes every joke land even more than when alone.

A Variety of Talent 

The characters and actors truly make this film what it is, with every actor on their best footing throughout the film. The lead of the film Thelonious “Monk” Ellison is the star of the show as he manages a sardonic tone during scenes that work only to highlight the absurdity around him. His comedic and emotional beats always work and never feel stale – as a character, Monk is truly an interesting person, someone who the audience can’t help but root for while also cringing at all the wrong things he says. Among Wright is Issa Rae, who plays Sintara Golden, the rival author; Sterling K. Brown, who plays Clifford Ellison; Monk’s brother; Tracee Ellis Ross, who plays Lisa Ellison; Monk’s sister; Leslie Uggams, who plays the matriarch Agnes Ellison; and Erika Alexander who plays Coraline, Monk’s love interest. 

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Jeffrey Wright as Thelonious 'Monk' Ellison in 'American Fiction' (2023) | Image: TIFF /ORION RELEASING

Every actor is truly amazing in their roles, being both comedic and real while adding a level of truth to the piece. Aside from Wright himself, a true standout in this film is Issa Rae with her appearance as Sintara Golden, who simultaneously brings levity and legitimacy to a character not often given the right due to the body of work they create. Rae initially portrays a comedic relief character, someone Monk and the audience can’t take seriously based on the reading we see her hold for her new book. However, upon more interactions with the character, we see Golden, not as a carbon copy or a stereotype, but as someone who portrays an authenticity she experiences, and despite it not being up to Monk’s standards, doesn’t make it any less real or important. 

Another actor who stands out as a truly amazing character with a showstopping performance is Tracee Ellis Ross, who plays Lisa Ellison. Out of the entire cast, Ross’ showing as Lisa was the most surprising, not because one doesn’t expect a stellar performance from Ross, but because the emotional depth she portrays as a supporting character like Lisa is rarely done to the amount of excellence shown by Ross in the little amount of screen time she gives. Lisa manages to garner the love and affection of the audience quickly with her quick little jokes towards Monk and the emotional beats she shares with her mother, played by Leslie Uggams. When she departs from the movie relatively early, especially as someone with as much star power as her, you truly feel the loss of her absence. This is a good thing. However, it shows how much Ross was able to impact the audience while also reiterating how important Lisa was in the overall dynamic of the Ellison family household. The actors make this movie like no other cast ever has, and if the premise isn’t enough to draw you in, the talent of these performers should.

A Must-See Movie

This movie is a total recommendation – the true definition of a must-see movie, especially in theaters. This type of film is a once-in-a-lifetime movie that everyone needs to watch at least once. 

Watch American Fiction right now in any theater near you.

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Sterling K. Brown as Cliff Ellison, Jeffrey Wright as Thelonious "Monk" Ellison, and Erika Alexander as Coraline in 'American Fiction' (2023) | Image: TIFF /ORION RELEASING

American Fiction (2023) Amazon MGM Studios Official Trailer

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Matt Keyser is a recent graduate of Cal State Fullerton University with a bachelor's in Communications-Journalism. He is a freelance entertainment reporter with a focus on film and television. As a former senior programming coordinator for the Newport Beach Film Festival, Matt's experience with critiquing narratives and documentaries has helped showcase his passion for television and cinema through his writing.