“American Fiction” may not have anything new to say with its social commentary about media, but it still is able to deliver laughs, touching moments, and a handful of frustration.
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Monk, born Thelonious Ellison, is an author who has written a few books. None of which made him rich, but at the very least, prestigious enough to be invited to teach at a liberal arts college to make a living.
However, being that Monk is the type who doesn’t believe in letting people be in their comfort zones, he rubs a few people the wrong way and is forced into a sabbatical. This means heading to Boston, his hometown, and reconnecting with his family.
Unfortunately, this leads to a series of events that allows you to understand why Monk moved to the other side of the United States. Whether it is family secrets, him feeling left out, or just the type of jabs everyone throws at each other, you can see a lot of healing needs to be done.
But that’s not the heart of the movie. A notable part of it does deal with Monk’s family, but the heart of it is Monk being jealous of this young writer named Sintara Golden, who has written an urban novel. Monk already disdains his books being othered, strictly because he is Black, no matter the book’s subject. So for this person to profit from another book that perpetuates the downtrodden and urban Black experience is the only authentic, raw, and to some, true Black experience – it frustrates him.
So, originally as a joke, he mockingly writes his own urban tale of people living in the hood, impoverished, and more, and has to reckon with it being a hit at a time when he needs money because of what’s going on in his personal life, in which his family either can’t or refuses to help him.
Please Note: This character guide is not an exhaustive list of every cast member.
A writer with a doctorate and an aggressive college professor, Monk has heavily leaned on his intelligence. But, with coming from a family of medical doctors, being the one whose degree is in literature is an understandable challenge. However, Monk having a chip on his shoulder in general makes many of his professional and personal relationships challenging at times.
- The actor is also known for their role in “O.G.“
An up-and-coming author of a book written in phonetic ebonics, Sintara may have come from privilege and is open about it, but likes to write from the perspective of people who don’t share her story. With her doing interviews to try to be as authentic as possible.
- The actor is also known for their role in “The Photograph.”
A plastic surgeon and recently out gay man, Cliff is transitioning from a life where his focus was marriage, his kids, and his work to being about his work, sex, drugs, and tapping into how outspoken his mom is.
- The actor is also known for their role in “Waves.”
Lorraine is Agnes’ nurse, who has been looking after her. However, as things progress beyond her abilities, Lorraine has begun to explore life beyond her work with Agnes.
- The actor is also known for their role in “Familiar.”
Agnes is the matriarch of Monk’s family who, likely even before her health started declining, wasn’t one to hold her tongue. Thus making her relationship with her kids, Cliff especially, difficult.
A lawyer, specifically a public defender, Coraline is taking a bit of a break from that and breaking up with her ex, when she meets Monk, whose books she has read. So, with knowing him through his work, she pursues knowing him as a person.
- The actor is also known for their role in “Earth Mama.”
Maynard is a veteran and security officer for Coraline’s community, where Agnes’ family has a beach house.
Lisa is a recently divorced OB/GYN who, thanks to Monk being the favorite child, has a far closer bond to Cliff than she does to her parents or Monk.
- The actor is also known for their role in “Cold Copy.”
Potential is what people wee when what is in front of them is not good enough.
Enemies see each other better than friends.
People are more than their worst deed.
Our Rating: Mixed (Divisive)
How The Supporting Characters Are Written
One of the best things “American Fiction” does is have it where there is a perfect balance between the supporting characters pushing Monk’s storyline along and having their own issues. Monk’s brother Cliff has only come out within the last year. Between his marriage collapse and relationship with his parents, you can see he is going through it. He may not be crying into his pillow, but you can see his reaction to feeling rejected and catching up, in his own way, is a bit drastic.
Then, with Lorraine, who is helping to take care of Agnes, we see a woman who will surely feel familiar if you come from a Black household. Someone who is just warmth wherever she goes, has all the patience and love in the world, and to see a character like that find love through another named Maynard? Oh, it is a beautiful thing.
But the kicker here is that, as much as you see Cliff going through, despite Lorraine’s story of love or Agnes’ decline, no one is written to fight Monk for the spotlight. While this isn’t an ensemble, it respects most characters enough to allow them to shine, have their moment, and then step behind Monk and push him forward once more.
They Did Tracee Ellis Ross Dirty
As a fan of Tracee Ellis Ross and someone who will check out something if her name is attached, I was disappointed. There was so much more that could have been done with Lisa, but I’ll admit, while Sterling K. Brown, as jokey as he made Cliff, knew how not to steal the show, I don’t know if Tracee Ellis Ross could do the same.
In many ways, there almost feels like there is a pattern forming with her roles where they don’t just let her be the lead. She is either a notable supporting role or co-lead, but just being the one you are solely supposed to focus on? They don’t let her do that, and it is starting to seem her presence, her charisma, whether playing someone likable or hateable, is coming to the point where they have to do her dirty like this or else all eyes will be on her. Making it so, when she isn’t around, you are more focused on how long it has been since you’ve seen her than anything else going on.
On The Fence
It Doesn’t Say Anything New In Its Commentary About The Depiction Or Perception Of Black Folks In Media
Whether in comedic ways like Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled,” Aaron McGruder’s “The Boondocks,” and countless others, nothing said in “American Fiction” may seem new regarding its social commentary. There are no revelations, new perspectives, or any of that.
What do you get? People like Monk who hate the idea of Black folk being depicted as a monolith, Black folk creating trauma porn for White guilt or entertainment, and who also, rightfully, don’t think that just because they are Black, it means they should be othered.
As I’m sure you heard a Black actor or creative say, as much as they may love being Black, which brings a different perspective, it doesn’t mean it should be cordoned off as a Black movie, Black play, or Black book.
Yet, some, like Sintara, counter that sometimes you have to play to the market. Also, these stories do exist, and whether you like them or not. People relate to these stories and are entertained by them. Sometimes, it makes them emotional and truly affects them.
All of this is said plainly, maybe passionately by Monk at times, but likely you won’t find it adds much to the zeitgeist that hasn’t already been said.
Wishing We Got More Out Of The Ladies
There is a comment in the film by Coraline, in which she compliments Monk about how he writes women. Now, could this be seen as me just looking for problems? Yes. But I must admit there is a bit of unease about how women, predominately Black women, are written for “American Fiction.”
Now, on the positive tip, all of them have a backstory. Lisa is a medical doctor who is recently divorced, Coraline is a lawyer also dealing with a breakup, Lorraine is a home nurse who is falling in love, and Agnes had a life as well, spent with multiple men who struggled with who they were.
But something feels missing. It’s almost like, after their introduction, it is all about how they can serve Monk and the film, if not the man they are attached to. This is in comparison to Cliff, who is like your favorite guest star on a sitcom, coming and going as he pleases, with his own storyline often barely related to Monk’s.
Lisa informs Monk how unaware he is about what is going on with the family and its secrets. Coraline is the helpful girlfriend and gets to be part of the joke of many being surprised Monk isn’t dating another white woman and Santara? She is the counterpoint to Monk’s frustrations.
Don’t get me wrong, you can see the purpose of each character, but as much as we were disappointed with how Tracee Ellis Ross was handled, in some ways, with knowing what the other actresses are capable of, we were disappointed with how their characters were utilized too. Mainly in retrospect vs. when watching the film.
Who Is This For?
Those who like comedies that focus on social commentary, especially the Black experience, mixed in with family drama and a sprinkle of feel-good moments.
Based On Work By
December 22, 2023
How To Watch
1 Hour 57 Minutes
Noted Characters and Cast
Sterling K. Brown
Myra Lucretia Taylor
Raymond Anthony Thomas
Tracee Ellis Ross
Content Rating Explanation
- Dialog: Some Cursing
- Violence: Scenes of graphic gun violence
- Sexual Content: None
- Miscellaneous: Drinking and smoking
If you like this movie, we recommend:
- The Boondocks
- Dear White People
Check out our movies page for our latest movie reviews and recommendations.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments:
- Considering we’re in a time where films like this exist, “The Chi,” “The Ms. Pat Show,” the movies we see on OWN, BET, Tubi, and films like “The Outlaw Johnny Black,” “Chevalier,” “Creed III,” “They Cloned Tyrone” and countless others, have we reached a point of diversity where there is something for everyone? Or do you feel there is still a heavy focus on certain types of stories with others produced but not getting the type of marketing to be seen as put to the forefront?
- How many Black people need to star in something to qualify as a Black anything? What’s the quota (I say jokingly)?
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American Fiction (2023) – Movie Review
No doubt “American Fiction” is entertaining. However, something about it feels like the new, modern, or better financed, if not marketed, version of something you’ve heard or seen before, regarding its commentary. Then, when it comes to everything else? Particularly the family drama? It’s good enough to leave you satisfied but not so good you want more. Ultimately, this makes “American Fiction” something that meets expectations but by no means exceeds them.
How The Supporting Characters Are Written - 83%
They Did Tracee Ellis Ross Dirty - 64%
It Doesn’t Say Anything New In Its Commentary About The Depiction Or Perception Of Black Folks In Media - 75%
Wishing We Got More Out Of The Ladies - 73%
- How The Supporting Characters Are Written
- Wishing We Got More Out Of The Ladies
- It Doesn’t Say Anything New In Its Commentary About The Depiction Or Perception Of Black Folks In Media
- They Did Tracee Ellis Ross Dirty