Review: Full Frontal

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

I usually go into a movie with high hopes. This is something that helps to keep me from being cynical about the state of American movies. But after reading some of the negative reviews from other critics, I walked into Full Frontal with an underlying sense of skepticism. I walked out of Full Frontal, happy to see that I was surprisingly content with the film I had just observed.

Steven Soderbergh burst onto the radar with his critically acclaimed 1989 independent film Sex, Lies, and Videotape. He returns to indie 13 years later, and with an Oscar in toe. The only problem is Full Frontal is hardly indie. Take away the digital cinematography and the limited release pattern and you have a film fit for the multiplex. This is evident by the presence of big name stars like Julia Roberts and David Duchovny. This makes Full Frontal feel turgescent, but it is anything but. Full Frontal is obviously a daring exercise in the innovation of style rather than substance, and is there anything wrong with that?

Full Frontal is the story of several people all living in L.A. and their lives are all somehow connected to the fictional movie “Rendezvous” and its producer Gus (David Duchovny). Carl (David Hyde-Pierce) is the screenwriter of “Rendezvous.” He is married to Lee (Catherine Keener), a Human Resources executive, and is afraid she is going to leave him, and the fact that he just lost his job as a magazine writer isn‘t helping. Lee is planning to do exactly that, leave Carl. She is having an affair with Calvin (Blair Underwood). Calvin is the male lead in “Rendezvous,” playing Nicolas. The female lead of “Rendezvous” is Francesca (Julia Roberts) who is playing the character of Catherine in “Rendezvous.” Lee’s sister Linda (Mary McCormack) is a masseuse who is planning on having a rendezvous (no pun intended) with a person she met on the internet “Ed.” Ed (Enrico Colantoni), who is really Arty, is directing a play (written by who else but Carl) based on the life of Hitler (being played by the hilarious Nicky Katt) and moonlighting in a small role in “Rendezvous.” All these characters finally collide at a party for the rarely seen, yet ever important, Gus.

The fake movie “Rendezvous” takes up a significant portion of this film, thus it is important that I describe the fictional film. “Rendezvous” is following the career of actor Nicolas (really Calvin, really Blair Underwood) who is being interviewed on the road for an article by journalist Catherine (really Francesca, really Julia Roberts). Nicolas is filming a movie during all of this (as if things weren't complicated enough, they have added a movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie) with Brad Pitt (who has a cameo). Most of Julia Robert’s and Blair Underwood’s screen time in Full Frontal is as their characters in “Rendezvous” of Catherine and Nicolas respectfully. (This may sounds complicated, and many other critics have called it complicated. However, during viewing it isn’t too difficult to follow. So don’t let my overly involved description shy you away from the film.)

From the outside, Full Frontal is tale about lives intertwining in Tinsel Town and their involvement in the industry that runs Tinsel Town. When the film concludes, and all the paths intersect, we see that the film is about the film industry on the surface, but at its heart, its about love in Hollywood.

Anything that is “real” is Full Frontal is shot in grainy digital form. Despite the lack complete clarity, the digital camera work is tolerable. I had no trouble distinguishing characters from characters. Anything that is part of “Rendezvous” was shot in traditional crisp and clear 35 mm. The use of two types of film styles is a shrewd move by Steven Soderbergh (who also has cinematographer credit) and goes a long way in helping us differentiate what is happening. Had the entire film been shot in only 35 mm, the only way we could have distinguished “Rendezvous” from Full Frontal would have been Julia Roberts hair!

Now that we have gotten through the obvious observations, we can move onto what Full Frontal is really supposed to be about. Full Frontal is a character study. Evident by its lack of true plot. However, because of the sheer number of characters we don’t really get to observe these characters manerisims, with the exceptions of Carl and Lee. And because we don't see that much of the individual characters, Full Frontal can occasionally be cold and univolving.

This lack of involvement is the biggest flaw that Full Frontal possesses. At times the thought of meaningless crossed my mind as this characters tangoed. Fortunately, because Full Frontal is unique enough, the dialogue is so sharp, the characters are so fascinating, and all other aspects of the movie work, I still enjoyed the experience of Full Frontal.

Full Frontal is definitely a comedy. The jokes that are contained within Full Frontal are often intricate and adult oriented, and also often very funny. These jokes are not punchline funny, the jokes you see coming a mile away. The things that make you laugh in Full Frontal are the simple things, a quirky conversation between two eccentric characters, or a hilarious anecdote.

The acting from the actors in this ensemble piece are all good pieces workmanship. Ranging from the only merely good performance of Julia Roberts to the Oscar worthy performances of David Hyde-Pierce and Catherine Keener. The casting of all the roles is nicely done. In some movies we tend to confuse one character with another, this is not present with Full Frontal. It was imperative that the casting be done just right for this film, because of the complicated story, and I am happy it say it was.

Full Frontal is different type of film than we usually see. And that in itself makes it worth a viewing. If we measure Full Frontal against the standards that Hollywood has set, it comes out way above par and worthy of my recommendation. But keep in mind, Full Frontal is one of those rare films that you have to see and judge for yourself.

© 2002 Jake Sproul

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