Following the release of his blistering, controversial Happiness, everything changed for Todd Solondz. A brilliant, darkly comic look at US suburbia, it built upon the promise of Welcome To The Dollhouse. Solondz was now an `important' film-maker, spoken of in the same breath as Paul Thomas Anderson or the Coen brothers. So, not much pressure for the follow up then...
Unsurprisingly, Storytelling doesn't live up to everyone's expectations. While Happiness put suburban life under the microscope, using comedy to tackle taboos, this can't repeat its predecessor's success. Well, not on such a great scale.
For while Storytelling again demonstrates Solondz's talent for making us laugh and squirm simultaneously, he takes pot shots at so many subjects he can't tie everything together in just one narrative. The result is a compelling but disjointed movie, probably not helped by the decision to completely ditch a story strand featuring Dawson's Creek star James Van Der Beek (at the behest of either the director or the producers - - depending on who you speak to).
Though both Fiction and Non-Fiction deal with the nature of storytelling, this is not the unifying theme of the film. Its title would have you think otherwise, but Storytelling is about America and what it has become. It pokes fun at positive discrimination toward ethnic minorities and the disabled, mocks both the school and college systems, and shows us what the good ol' US family is really like.
But this is not a gentle parody; Solondz presents a bleakly accurate and damning picture of the country he lives in. It's challenging and entertaining, sure, but also fractured and unfocused - more like a director ticking off pet hates on a checklist than the masterpiece so many were hoping it would be.
Todd Solondz has delivered a controversial film that will be loved and hated in equal measure. Following up Happiness was always going to be tough, and though Storytelling has moments of true brilliance, a lack of focus detracts from its overall impact.