Some films expand your horizons, some shift your paradigm, some make your spirit soar with the possibilities inherent in the human condition and some are so awful that they make you question the existence of God. That last would apply to the 109 minutes of my life wasted at Steven Soderbergh’s latest, FULL FRONTAL.
The question that most immediately comes to mind during and after viewing that sad piece of self-indulgent twaddle is “What the A$&#**@ is this supposed to be?” Alas, we never get an answer to that question, eschewing as Mr. Soderbergh does, any semblance of coherence, plot, theme, or even style. Unless, and here is a scary thought, Mr. Soderbergh is under the impression that he has created a new school of cinema. Let me make this simple for all of us. He hasn’t. In fact, Mr. Soderbergh should be forced to knock on the door of every home in America and apologize in person for this film to anyone who has seen it, has thought of seeing it, or has even heard of it. Make that every home in the English-speaking world.
I was handed production notes for the press screening I attended, I paid close attention to the proceedings and even, though my eyes did at one point bug out in disbelief, took my own careful notes about the proceedings playing out on screen I had no idea what was going on nor what Mr. Soderberghs putative point might have been and, as a point of reference for my ability to follow a film, I was able to follow the plot of BUCKAROO BANZAI when others couldnt.
This is a film within a film and there are all sorts of people involved whose individual stories meander onto the screen and then off again, intersecting in ways that are astonishing only for the total lack of meaning to anything else going on. Here’s the lowdown. Catherine Keener, a fine actress who should be more famous, plays the meanest woman in the world. She’s married to David Hyde Pierce, who plays the biggest schlub in the world who is having the worst day of his life. There’s some sort of connection with Julia Roberts, an actress who is very famous, playing the nastiest actress in the world who is concerned about something called tuna fingers and ditching her latest paramour, both of which problems she dumps on her personal assistant. Blair Underwood, a terrific actor playing a TV actor trying to parlay his small screen stardom into a viable film career is totally wasted in all his toothsome wonderfulness. If only this tidy little inside joke about TV-film crossovers could have blossomed, but subsumed as it is by its own smug, self-satisfied snarkiness, it is doomed.
Meanwhile, Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein, playing himself as the life of a party you just don’t want to be invited to, makes a cameo. And then another. I don’t know why. And that’s because the time-space continuum of this film’s universe is so twisted that a black hole sucking it out of existence would be a blessing. No one in this film has anything interesting, original, or even entertaining to say. The ideas are recycled, and badly, from DAY FOR NIGHT, THE FRENCH LIETENANT’S WOMAN, SHORTCUTS and THE PRODUCERS. The individual scenes are tedious when they are not annoying, which is, further alas, most of the time. The denoument (or is it supposed to be a punch line?) attempts a profundity that the rest of the film does not support and says more about male anxiety in a non-interesting, non-original way, than about how to wrap up a film. Besides, by the time we get there, we just dont care anymore.
Perhaps Mr. Soderbergh had some bits of ideas for films floating around and decided, what the heck, instead of actually developing something worthwhile, I’ll just string them all together and call it an homage to Robert Altman. He’ll be flattered. What we learn from this exercise is that doing a Robert Altman is not as easy as it might look to some people and that imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery.
As for why this thing is going to be in theaters, the only thing I can figure is that there was some sort of bet involved and it went like this. “Hey Harvey, I bet you can get anything nominated for an Oscar no matter how bad it is.” And Harvey took the bet and hence, FULL FRONTAL, a work whose only purpose is to be the yardstick by which we measure all bad films from up until now good filmmakers, a film so catastrophic that FEMA should be alerted, a film so hard on its audience that many will be driven to drink. I, myself, was driven to See’s Candy, but not even the overwhelming sugar rush of two Bordeaux, a lemon truffle and coconut bon bon could drown the memory of this dreck.