Todd Solondz has always been a difficult director for me to tackle. I don’t quite get why people love his films so much. I didn’t have the maturity to really understand Happiness when I first saw it. I tried watching Palindromes and turned it off a couple of minutes into it. (That was definitely pre-blog. Now I watch and suffer until completion no matter what just so I can have some content. It is all about the content, baby.) Having a bad time with two of his movies, I figured I would stay away from the rest of his filmography and refrain from any conversation that brings him up. But Netflix makes fools of us all. If you don’t look at what you are going to get next in your DVD queue, you end up with some really weird stuff that you put on it on a whim a long, long time ago. Thus the reason I watched Storytelling, my third Todd Solondz picture.
There are two sections or shorts to this movie. They are not really connected, except by theme. The first one is entitled “Fiction” and it is about a young punk woman dating a young man with cerebral palsy. We first see them making love. Immediately upon completion, the man asks the woman if she would read his short story. The woman evades the question and creates an awkward moment with this man. We find out that they had met at a creative writing class and are considered “serious” boyfriend and girlfriend. But there is something that draws this young woman away from the young man and into the arms of the creative writing teacher. Maybe it is because the teacher has a strong writing voice coupled with a strong opinion on everyone’s writing abilities. Or maybe it is because he is black. Through a series of events, she ends up at the teacher’s house. The awkwardness only escalates from there. She is able to use this encounter in her piece that she submits to the class. Earlier when the young man with cp was reading his sexual story, he got compliments on how “brave” he was and how well he described the act. The exact opposite happens to her. She is criticized and dismissed for writing a sexual story.
The second section is entitled “Nonfiction.” A man who is struggling to find a sense of purpose decides to make a documentary on the life of a high school student. He chooses Scooby, a pothead maybe homosexual, slacker. Scooby resists taking the ACTs and going to college, but is forced to by his dad. Instead Scooby wants to be a talk show host or sidekick. The documentarian watches his every move, but it isn’t until Scooby’s younger brother suffers trauma from a botched football sack does he actually thinks he has something. A couple of months later, Scooby sneaks into a screening of the documentary and he sees his life chopped up and made fun of. The audience erupts with laughter over the absurd things that come out of Scooby’s mouth. Scooby wrongly thought this was his big break, but it was actually the documentarian’s, not his.
Each section deals with how we shape the artistic endeavors in our lives. In the first section the two writers each use their life experiences to make overwrought and pretentious short stories. In the second section the documentarian is able to stretch and warp the experiences of this lost young high school student for his own benefit. These are coping mechanisms but they are also vehicles for manipulation and control of the rest of their world. This is where the uncomfortable moments that Solondz does so well comes into play. Long awkward confrontations between Scooby and the documentarian and the young woman and her teacher are a direct result of the art they create.
While it was hard for me to completely sympathize with any character, I at least understood where they were coming from which was more than I could say for Happiness. This film gives me hope that I might like other Solondz films and that I might want to revisit the two movies I hated in the first place. Any recommendations on what to watch next?