1989 was a simpler time. George Herbert Walker Bush was the President of the United States, the Exxon Valdez was spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound and Grammy voters were awarding Michael Bolton the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance of the year.
It was also the year a young director named Steven Soderbergh released "sex, lies and videotape" the low-budget film with the lowercase title that ushered in the modern era of American independent filmmaking. Soderbergh would go on to make several more thoughtful independent films that sealed his reputation with thoughtful independent filmgoers. Then in the year 2000 he hit critical and box office mass with not one, but two major motion pictures: "Erin Brockovitch" and "Traffic." He immediately added a dollop of whipped cream to his success with a star-studded remake of "Ocean's Eleven" last year.
His latest film "Full Frontal" suggests Mr. Soderbergh has been feeling guilty, nostalgic, bored and/or devilish. He has enlisted actors to play actors in a film within a film, and though some of those actors include Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt "Full Frontal" is awash in the grainy sheen of low-budget guerrilla filmmaking. Indeed Soderbergh has returned to his roots, and "Full Frontal" shares much of the spirit of "sex, lies and videotape" right down to its titillating title. But there is no full frontal nudity in the film. So I guess we're supposed to say something like....the only thing that gets bared is the characters' souls. But that's not exactly true, either. Though smart, entertaining and risk-taking "Full Frontal" maintains a lot of distance. The film within a film device turns out to be artifice and trickery....there's no payoff waiting at the end. The non-linear plot is touted as being about the fragile connections that bind people together, though it's hard to think of a single film that doesn't fit that bill. The ensemble characters, an assortment of damaged goods from the shallow trenches of Los Angeles, have been given excellent dialogue by screenwriter Coleman Hough. But "sex, lies and videotape" could have been about friends of yours. "Full Frontal" seems to be about friends of Hough's and Soderbergh's. And they have friends like Terrance Stamp, who shows up as an extra in two scenes for the sole purpose of getting viewers to say "hey....wasnt that Terrance Stamp?"
It's fun enough to watch, but you're not going to bleed for anyone on the screen. With the possible exception of Catherine Keener. She steals the show as a wildly unhappy woman having the worst day of her life, from her job as a cutthroat corporate VP where she toys maniacally with the people she's about to lay off, to her decaying homelife with husband David Hyde Pierce who happens to be having the worst day of his life, too. Keener's performance is right on the razor's edge and it's genuinely exciting to watch.
The rest of "Full Frontal" is....well....titillating. A juicy collection of talent engaged in some serious adult entertainment. And all of them having just a little more fun....than you are
© 2002 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 7/31/02
USA - 2002