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New Line Home Cinema presents
Storytelling (2001)

"She's just a spoiled suburban white girl with a Benetton rainbow complex."
- Catherine (Alekksa Palladino)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: July 15, 2002

Stars: Selma Blair, Robert Wisdom, John Goodman, Julie Hagerty, Mark Webber, Paul Giamatti
Other Stars: Leo Fitzpatrick, Alekksa Palladino, Mike Schank, Steve Railsback, Conan O'Brien, Lupe Ontiveros, Jonathan Osser, Noah Fleiss, Franka Potente
Director: Todd Solondz

Manufacturer: CVC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, language, sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:26m:50s
Release Date: July 16, 2002
UPC: 794043554421
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+B+B+ C-

DVD Review

Independent writer/director Todd Solondz became an underground and critic darling with Welcome To The Dollhouse (1995) and Happiness (1997), a pair of films that pushed a lot of uncomfortably taboo hot buttons with a raw, wide-eyed look at the subtleties of the ugly side of human behavior. It's all about angst and awkwardness with Solondz, and he has certainly kept his streak going with Storytelling, a film that, while not as singularly bleak as Happiness (and noticeably less chatty at a brisk 87 minutes), is one that piles on a depressing succession of downbeat plot twists. Cinematographer Frederick Elmes, no stranger to dysfunctionalism after working on The Ice Storm and Blue Velvet, captures an equal blend of beautiful and ugly moments together, often with a more unflinching eye than many viewers would probably care for. The film is split into two sections: Fiction and Non-Fiction. What this means is that we have two separate, unrelated stories being told here, and Solondz uses the thread of storytelling (hence the title) as the link between the two.

Fiction (which runs a scant twenty-seven minutes) is about Vi (Selma Blair), a free-spirited college student who is involved in a sex-fueled relationship with fellow student Marcus (Leo Fitzpatrick), who happens to have cerebral palsy. The pair both attend a writing class given by the brutally frank Mr. Scott (Robert Wisdom), a Pulitzer Prize-winning African-American author. When Mr. Scott viciously verbally dissects and attacks Marcus' short story about his love for Vi, the already strained relationship between the two lovers is destroyed. What follows is Vi's search for redemption with a one-night stand that results in a disturbing sexual encounter that becomes the inspiration for a story that leaves her even more empty than when she began.

New Line has included both the unrated and R-rated versions of Storytelling on this disc, and the only major difference between the two is the treatment of the aforementioned sex scene with Vi. The unrated version (while not graphically explicit) was apparently too much for the ratings board to bless the film with an "R" and, oddly enough the R-rated version sports a Solondz-endorsed red rectangle completely covering the sex act.

Non-Fiction is the second tale in Solondz's latest dark vision, and is really the centerpiece of the film, running nearly an hour in length. Down and out documentarian Toby Oxman (Paul Giamatti) is looking to make a film about post-Columbine teenage life in suburbia, and when he stumbles upon the crumbling Norman Rockwell-ian Livingston family, he discovers more than he bargained for. On the surface, it would seem to be an idyllic life for Marty (John Goodman) and Fran (Julie Hagerty), and their three boys: disenfranchised high school senior slacker Scooby (Mark Webber), athletic freshman Brady (Noah Fleiss) and overly inquisitive fifth-grader Mikey (Jonathan Osser). But of course the odds of complete happiness in a Solondz film is a scarce commodity, and when Toby uses Scooby as the focal point of his documentary, stability and normalcy quickly fall to the wayside.

Comas, homosexuality, dysfunctional families, unfulfilled dreams, college admissions, selfishness, hypnosis, religion, rape, and murder all figure prominently in Non-Fiction, and Solondz continually dishes out an ever-increasing array of troubling events that conspire together to shatter the Livingston family.

Non-Fiction has the benefit of an exceptional cast, especially a perfectly downtrodden, but eager, Toby as played by Paul Giamatti. His phone conversation during the opening of the segment, when he is describing his downward career spiral since high school to a former classmate, is a marvel of bitterness and self-effacing pity. John Goodman, donning a pair of heavy horn-rimmed glasses, is a 1950s dad facing 2001 crises, and he provides a finely suppressed rage throughout. Steve Railsback (Helter Skelter), Franka Potente (Run, Lola, Run) Mike Schank (American Movie), and even Conan O'Brien (as himself) pop up in brief, but memorable cameos.

Storytelling will never be considered "the feel good movie of the year" by any means, but that wasn't the filmmaker's intent, either. As is Solondz's style, this is another dose of depressing reality barely disguised by a thin mask of normalcy.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: New Line has included both the non-rated and R-rated version of Storytelling on this disc, and each version is available in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen or 1.33:1 fullframe. For those of you not so good with math, that works out to four versions of the same film. The image transfer is very good, with bright, natural colors reproduced with a consistent accuracy. Shadows figure prominently in Fiction, and while some of the scenes appear far too dark, one in particular resonates with simple, haunting beauty, and it is rendered here nicely.

No compression issues or source print flaws were apparent on this solid transfer from New Line.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Storytelling features 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 surround mixes, and this is another example of virtually identical soundtracks. Sure, the 5.1 is noticeably fuller, especially if you flip between the two options during a single line of dialogue, but separation isn't really any more pronounced. Voices are clear and discernible, and the wonderfully dreary Belle and Sebastian compositions sound just fine. The differences between the two mixes are minimal, and Solondz's film is driven by dialogue, and the absence of any real surround cues render the need for a 5.1 mix questionable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Other than the inclusion of the rated and non-rated versions, the only other extra New Line has included is a theatrical trailer for Storytelling, and some meager DVD production credits.

The film is split into 25 chapters, and features subtitles in English and French.

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

Todd Solondz has assembled another achingly uncomfortable look at human behavior, here exposing what we learn and how we adapt from enduring difficult life lessons. This isn't the type of film that will appeal to everyone, but if you can handle your dark comedies (as New Line has labeled this disc on the spine) really dark, then Storytelling should suffice.

Recommended.

 


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