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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

'A voice for the voiceless'
Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
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Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

CineHawk review: ‘American Fiction’

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GRAPHIC: SADIE HENZES ’24/THE HAWK

A timely and provocative exploration of the power of a story, “American Fiction” is an adaptation of the 2001 novel “Erasure” by Percival Everett. Written and directed by Cord Jefferson, the film tells the story of a writer’s struggle to produce meaningful work while balancing the demands of his dysfunctional family. “American Fiction” stars Jeffrey Wright, Sterling K. Brown, Issa Rae, Tracee Ellis Ross, John Ortiz and Erika Alexander. It is currently playing in theaters.

The film’s narrative revolves around Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, played by Wright, an author and literary professor placed on leave after his students complain about an offensive lecture. As he handles family complications and the pressure to write his next book, Monk writes an absurd parody of his most despised genre: dramatic novels that exaggerate and exploit the African-American experience. To his horror, the book becomes an instant hit, and the fallout forces him to reckon with his demons.

Jefferson has a masterful grasp of tone, balancing character-based humor with heart-wrenching drama in a mutual symbiosis that only deepens audience investment in this story. The only fault to find is that Jefferson could have leaned more into Monk’s fantasy sequences since his first session of writing “My Pafology” is the film’s comedic highlight.

Jefferson’s screenplay succeeds in providing insight into the protagonist’s dilemma. Despite his long career, Monk feels underappreciated because the stories he writes do not lean into race and crime. This feeling of being pigeonholed based on external traits that one has no control over is all too relatable for writers and other artists.

Speaking of the protagonist, Wright is utterly perfect in every scene and line delivery. His performance makes Monk consistently relatable while never compromising his temper or ego. As Monk’s brother Cliff, Brown is a wonderful comedic foil, playing a pitiable mess of a man who, nonetheless, exceeds his brother in emotional intelligence. Rae is a joy to watch as always but also imbues the character Sintara with a depth of wisdom that may surprise audiences.

A shoo-in for an Academy Award, “American Fiction” is a bold and hysterical exploration of why we tell the stories we tell.

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