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Full Frontal (2002)

Everybody Needs A Release

Directed by:

Steven Soderbergh

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 111 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

Country: United States

For every mainstream film that Steven Soderbergh directs ('King of the Hill', 'Out of Sight', 'Erin Bronkovich') there are several more exotic projects to his name. From his quirky debut 'Sex, Lies and Videotape', through to experiments in form like 'The Underneath', 'The Limey', 'Traffic', 'Solaris' and now 'Full Frontal', Soderbergh has done more to bring arthouse sensibilities into the multiplex than any other American director besides Robert Altman – and as with Altman, part of Soderbergh's success is an uncanny ability to attract high-powered stars to non-genre films. While there is nothing conventional about 'Full Frontal', it is one of only three films ever made featuring both Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts (and of the other two, 'The Mexican' and 'Ocean's Eleven', the latter was also directed by Soderbergh).

Taking place on the birthday of Gus Delerio (David Duchovny), the producer of an arthouse film 'Rendezvous', Soderbergh's film portrays a day in the lives of an assortment of characters with identity crises, all connected directly or indirectly to Gus' project. Carl (David Hyde Pierce), who helped write the script for 'Rendezvous', is haunted by low self-esteem, while his unstable wife Lee (Catherine Keener) brings chaos wherever she goes. Lee's sister Linda (Mary McCormack), a masseuse who works under the name Ann, has arranged a rendezvous in Tucson with Ed, a 22-year old she has met on the internet, not realising that he is in fact the much older Arty (Enrico Colantino), co-writer of 'Rendezvous' who lives up to his own name (and is last seen in the film reading the book 'Is this art?'). Arty is also writer-director of a play on Hitler called 'The Sound and the Führer', featuring an actor (played by Nicky Katt) who is, mutatis mutandis, not a million miles from the mad tyrant he is playing. Meanwhile Calvin Cummings (Blair Underwood) is in 'Rendezvous' playing Nicholas, a successful black actor who complains that black actors never get to 'kiss a pretty woman' as he flirts with journalist Catherine (played by 'Pretty Woman' Julia Roberts) – while Calvin himself is engaged in a loveless affair with Lee…

'Full Frontal' IS a Hollywood film, insofar as it is set in Los Angeles and most of its characters are connected in one way or another with the film industry – it even features real Hollywood director David Fincher ('Seven', 'The Game', 'Fight Club', 'Panic Room') playing a Hollywood director of a clearly cliché-riddled buddy cop film (starring Brad Pitt). Except that is where all resemblances to your average Hollywood no-brainer end, and although Fincher's director is overheard saying 'this is the only movie', in fact the complicated structure of 'Full Frontal' involves a movie within a movie within a movie – and a play too – plus cameos from stars of Soderbergh's other movies as well as from Soderbergh himself.

What emerges is a dizzyingly convoluted exploration of sex, art, identity and reality, mediated through multiple voice-overs and different visual styles – and a film which, like 'Adaptation', ends up being about itself. But if this kind of clever-clever self-referentiality just makes you shudder, 'Full Frontal' is, beyond all the bewilderment, also very, very funny.

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It's Got: Hitler complaining when his mobile phone rings that Goebbels... thinks its a toy - and a dog called Django overdosing on hash brownies

It Needs: not to disappear up its own arse (although of course that is the whole point)

Alternatives:

8½, Adaptation, The French Lieutenants Woman, The Player, The Real Blonde

Summary

Whether regarded as a postmodern study of the paradoxes of art and identity, or just viewed as a series of amusing, intricately related episodes, this bold Hollywood satire has something – but perhaps not quite enough – for everybody.

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