American Fiction Review: One of the Best Films You Will Watch This Year

American Fiction starring Jeffrey Wright

Warning: This early review of American Fiction is from the Toronto International Film Festival and may contain potential spoilers for the film.

I don’t know what to tell you. American Fiction might be the best movie you watch this year.

This adaptation of Percival Everett’s Erasure, directed by Cord Jefferson and starring Jeffrey Wright, is a brilliant comedic bloodbath that tackles the trauma bonding of family after loss. However, once the film redirects its anger toward white guilt and how it has shaped the Black experience in media, the gloves come off — and the hits don’t stop.

The biting precision with which American Fiction‘s sharp wit slices away at the publishing and film industries is exhilarating.

American Fiction
American Fiction (Photo source: MGM Studios)

From the early bouts of family bickering, it is clear this film’s clashing contemporary setting and fast-paced storytelling is something to pay attention to. When things take a shocking turn early on, American Fiction has every right to adopt a somber pace. Still, this comedy is not in the business of wallowing.

The film perfects the art of blunt storytelling to propel itself toward the next joke. Not even death slows that momentum.

What is born from the ashes of tragedy and dysfunctionality is a dueling tale of family woes and career gripes. This comedy embraces a defined work-life balance, refusing to let Monk’s work and home life overlap, as it benefits regularity from the constant clashing.

In fact, it is a choice that should feel polarizing. After all, Monk has to pass between two worlds as he battles the national spotlight and his mother’s descent into dementia. Yet, Wright makes the journey work, slipping between worlds to disrupt any dust that may have settled while he was preoccupied.

That said, American Fiction is not a straight satire. It’s a smorgasbord of seething retorts with an active awareness of how stereotypes appeal to the masses. Its thoughtful criticism will attract Academy Award voters with the very gimmicks that mock them.

What a Joke!
American Fiction
American Fiction starring Sterling K. Brown (Photo source: MGM Studios)

As someone who goes to TIFF seeking out comedies (as true film buffs do), I did not expect American Fiction, with its doom-and-gloom beachside antics, to be this outright funny.

The humor is just so horrendously and unflinchingly true. This film has everyone’s number, especially white allies, but it doesn’t restrain itself from going for the easy targets either.

As such, Monk is an expert punching bag for his own jokes as they backfire with escalating absurdity. The film hits its stride as he descends further into the underbelly of horrifying publishing fetishes. Additionally, the story is not in the business of putting its Black leading man on a pedestal as much as showing how his cynical hatred for the world is spot on and unwelcomed.

Sellouts cannot be saints, and Monk’s forced acceptance of that as he has to play the game is as humiliating as it is relatable.

It is an art form, watching Monk back white characters into a corner, just so the audience has to sit with the silence of knowing someone will say the thing they shouldn’t out loud. From there, it is an upward spiral into hilarity as Monk goes undercover as a convict, taking meetings with Adam Brody’s Hollywood exec. as he leans aggressively into the media’s hunger for ghetto survival stories.

Wright Man for the Job
American Fiction
American Fiction (Photo source: MGM Studios)

American Fiction has a hero in Jeffrey Wright, who delivers one of the most nuanced and compelling performances of his career.

I was first introduced to Wright in Catching Fire, and I still can’t shake how good he was in that supporting role. And yet, despite being a legacy actor in this industry, Hollywood has not utilized him in leading roles as much as it should. So, for American Fiction to go all in on Wright’s ability to play the anti-hero with a sharp tongue and stubborn superiority complex is perfect casting.

Monk is a fully formed menace from the moment he steps on screen, and this expert cast of supporting roles bumps excitingly up against his blunt persona. From his experimenting gay brother, played by Sterling K. Brown, to Issa Rae’s pretentious trailblazing author, these characters are an excellent soundboard for Monk to bounce his frustrations off as his secret life spirals out of control.

Wright imbues this role with a caliber of timing that relies not on the punchline but on the crucial, uncomfortable beats between.

A Work of Fiction
American Fiction
American Fiction starring Issa Rae (Photo source: MGM Studios)

American Fiction tells it how it is, transfixing us with clever candor until the very last scene.

This character study glosses over Black allyship and meditative guilt in favor of the moral struggles Black creatives face in a society concerned only with the bottom line of diversity.

Amid a fight between working-class unions and CEO villains, society hungers for “Eat the Rich” content. Ultimately, that trend doesn’t go unnoticed at TIFF, with Dumb Money and Pain Hustlers toting coperate revenge tales. However, American Fiction masterfully exposes everyone’s accountability in this business without sacrificing Monk’s insufferable moral code.

Nonetheless, this dark side-splitting humor is unlike anything the book adaptation-obsessed industry has produced lately. With a highly unlikeable cast of characters, this rag-tag comedy suggests that making an earnest living is nearly impossible in today’s climate and rolls with the punches of that problematic crusade — if only to test the confines of our comfort with its subject matter.

Indeed, American Fiction is the book adaptation you won’t be able to put down.

Watch the trailer for American Fiction:

American Fiction, which won this year’s TIFF People’s Choice Award, will hit theaters on December 15.

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Alicia is a writer from Canada. She credits her passion for TV and film to superheroes, workplace comedies, cheesy holiday movies, and coming-of-age stories.

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