315) Storytelling (2001) Dir: Todd Solondz Date Released: January 2002 Date Seen: September 28, 2009 Rating: 4/5
Todd Solondz's Storytelling is on a par with Alain Resnais's Wild Grass in its abject refusal to grant its protagonists' closure. Solondz goes one step farther than Resnais and scolds his viewers along with his characters for wanting that a neat resolution. That's probably because, unlike Wild Grass, which is situated at the tail-end of Resnais's substantial filmography, Storytelling is a defense of Solondz's modus operandi after only having made two other films. Storytelling will make you squirm because it actively courts the viewer's immediate temptation to hem-and-haw at every grotesque turn. When confronted as aggressively as we are here, with characters as charming as oozing, days-old garbage left out in 90 degree weather, our first kneejerk reaction is, of course, to recoil. But that according to Solondz is the point of his work. And here, perhaps more so than in his searing Happiness, you can best see how that kind of cynicism masks Solondz's sustaining faith in his characters.
Solondz persists in telling us that he not only understands but in fact respects his characters by refusing to pigeonhole their lives into a neat structure of "Beginning, Middle and End," because that would force them to conform to our expectations. "The truth" in fiction according to Solondz is messy, rude and persistently at odds-with-itself. There's inherently no "meaning...to be found in this" his stand-in, played by Paul Giamatti says in the second of the film's two segments, "Fiction" and "Non-Fiction." The self-indulgent need to sympathize inevitably leads to the exploitation of his characters, showing that everybody, no matter how good-natured, is a little bit culpable.
Solondz's characters are consistently insipid even in trying to ingratiate themselves to each other but they're also trying to accomplish something from pure motives, for themselves, for others. That crucial belief in even the ugliest caricature sinks the viewer into a haze where they aren't allowed to escape until the film's cataclysmic and hilariously mean ending. It's Solondz's way of slapping the viewer for even thinking they could experience a brief moment of moral clarity in this awesome humanist black comedy.