It is reassuring when someone who can be wild and fun goes serious for a long while then comes back and revisits his wild side. Steven Soderbergh certainly likes to jump around, even in his early career, but from his last three films, Erin Brockovich
, and Ocean’s 11
, it looked like the man who made something as nutty as Schizopolis or as abstractly structured as The Limey had found a comfortable rut. Interestingly enough he decided to take on Full Frontal
as his project in between two big studio remakes (Full Frontal’s tagline, “Everybody Needs a Release,” speaks for many things in the film, including I would assume Soderbergh’s need to temporarily break away from his more recent works). Shot in 18 days, in quasi-Dogma style, with an improvising cast of actors ranging from a mega star like Julia Roberts to TV actors like Nicky Katt and David Duchovny, Full Frontal
looks a lot like Godard-lite, a movie in a movie in a movie, possibly about movies, possible about the people in them, or just people in general or maybe it’s about life as a movie, but whatever it is, it sure if fun to watch.
The cast here is bulging from the stress of a film within a film that includes a play, and so people doing all sorts of things (from acting to massaging to masturbating to ending a marriage) pop up and leave only to pop up again. Ms. Roberts and Blair Underwood are actors playing an actor and a reporter in a romantic movie inside Full Frontal (clips of which, shot in slick, smooth 35mm film, are interspersed throughout the grainy handheld DV footage that makes up the rest of the film); David Hyde Pierce is a magazine editor who’s marriage to Catherine Keener, a HR guru, is going down the tubes; Enrico Colantoni is a theater director, directing Nicky Katt as Hitler in a play (called The Sound and The Fuhrer
), all slightly linked to each other through the birthday party of a movie producer played by Mr. Duchovny. The plot goes on and on, always expanding, and never concluding as more cast members and odd cameos surreally appear only adding to the convoluted nature and overall strangeness of the whole affair. Theoretically the film could just be about people, for although improvised and shot like some documentary, Mr. Soderbergh once again pulls tremendous performances out of his actors which speaks to why looking at Full Frontal
simply as a relationship drama is fulfilling in its own right. But it becomes clear that it is not that simple as the jokes increase and the emotions of these supposedly famous members of Hollywood and the not so famous satellites circling around them run high. Julia Robert’s character hints at the kind of star eccentricities the public usually assumes they have, and once Brad Pitt, director David Fincher and uber-producer of Miramax (the company releasing Full Frontal
) Harvey Weinstein all show up as themselves, talking to and having relationships with the supposedly fictional characters played by the rest of the cast, things start to get weird and self-reflective (it looks like Terrance Stamp’s character from The Limey
actually appears in the film, but not the actual film, he appears in the film within the film, but then Terrence Stamp himself [I assume, not the character] pops up in the actual film. Whew.).
Though the film could clearly be giving an inside look at the people who revolve around the film industry (and the people who revolve around those people), it is also clear that Full Frontal is making fun of the people in its own film, unlike the recent The Anniversary Party
which strove so hard to be natural and in turn took itself much too seriously. Mr. Soderbergh’s flexible use of DV camera (read: always moving, naturally lit, etc.) gives the impression that what one is seeing is real, or at least a docu-drama in the same sense as Traffic
or The Blair Witch Project
. The handheld nature and gritty, low budget look of most of the film certainly plays on the audience’s expectations that what is on handheld camera is real and uncut and unrehearsed (or at least gives a realistic portrayal of Hollywood life) and the sharp, steady footage of the movie in the movie is false, and even though all actors in the film are playing fictional characters, the style in which everything is shot and the cameos of people playing themselves create a flux where every scene is obviously is just part of a fictional movie, yet they ring true as an insiders look into these Hollywood people. Even this notion is flipped on its head by the end, and the film resolves in an amusing way, emotionally satisfying the audience but shedding little light on what the previous hour and forty minutes of footage actually was showing. Regardless of what Soderbergh was truly getting at-perhaps the nature of film, perhaps the nature of Hollywood as portrayed in film, perhaps just showing a bunch of people, or maybe just showing us some people in a movie-Full Frontal
is both affecting (especially Ms. Keener who is almost distractingly real in her character’s breakdown, and David Hyde Pierce who gets the film’s best and biggest part), and hilarious (Nicky Katt as an blood drinking actor who plays Hitler in a sports jacket and headset telephone, or Blair Underwood’s actor who is in a romantic film where he plays an actor complaining about not getting romantic leads). Maybe what Soderbergh is getting at is that as long as this thing is funny and involving nothing else matters, whether one is watching real life or a movie (or a movie as real life, or real life as a movie…).