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Introduction
There are many methods that can be used to tell a story. These include the written word, motion picture films, dance, and even artistic imagery. Although not generally described as such, movies are one of the most diverse mediums for telling a story - allowing writers, directors, actors and actresses to journey into the world of others. Director Todd Solondz's film "Storytelling" is an anthology of two such tales.

Storytelling
Film
"Fiction" opens up the film and tells the story of Vi (Selma Blair) a young woman studying writing at a mid level community college. Her relationship with fellow student Marcus has seen better days as he begins to think that her attraction to him was based on his disability (he has Cerebral palsy) and that her interest has begun to diminish. One night after a session of uninspired sex where he complains that she didn't sweat enough.  Marcus asks for her opinion on his latest story.  Vi refuses and states that the story in it's previous form was fine and that he shouldn't change anything. Later that day during class their fellow students and Mr Scott (Robert Wisdom) an award winning author tears the story to shreds. This upsets Marcus even further because he knew the story was no good and wouldn't have embarrassed himself by reading it if not for Vi's encouragement. Later that same night Vi stumbles upon the professor at the campus bar and begins to ask him a series of questions. This leads to him telling her that she has no potential as a writer and should probably give up. Seeming unaffected by his statements she thanks him for his honesty and then agrees to accompany him back to his apartment where things become increasingly tense and difficult between the two. Vi tries to use the events of the night in a story for the class, however her peers are unconvinced by her account of the events - even though she exclaims that it happened.

"Non Fiction" is the second and longer of the two stories running for just under an hour. Scooby Livingston (Mark Webber) is in his senior year of High School and while his fellow classmates prepare for college and the rest of their lives, he's busy smoking, or hanging out listening to music in his room. Aside from one day ending up on TV he has no aspirations, no goals and certainly no future.  His life is made increasingly more difficult by his father's (John Goodman) never ending quest for him to make something out of himself and take the SATs. Toby Oxman (Paul Giamatti) is a shoe salesman who yearns for his high school days and the girl he let slip away. Determined not to be stuck in that job for the rest of his life Toby has come up with the idea for a documentary on the differences in high school life from when he graduated. There is very little interest in the project from the media and the community and for awhile it looks like the project won't get off the ground. That is until he meets Scooby. Scooby believes that Toby may have connections that could lead to a career in television and agrees to appear in the documentary. Now all that remains is the participation of the Livingston family. Initially the father has some reservations but reluctantly signs on despite questioning Toby's professional credentials.  Once on board Toby films the family's every activities including theoretical discussions about the holocaust, the tragic accident that befalls brother Brady (Noah Fleiss)  and the curiosity of young Mikey (Jonathan Osser)'s questioning of live-in maid Consuleo (Lupe Ontiveros).

"Storytelling" is a film that had an all too brief theatrical run in my neck of the woods. One could argue that the film's subject matter does not lend itself to commercial viability but I still thought this film would do better than lasting a mere two weeks in a fairly big market for art house films. I saw the film during it's opening weekend with an adequate sized crowd and enjoyed it and hoped to see it a second time but was unable to due to it's quick exit. During the film's production I had heard numerous interesting reports about problems with the set and how "Dawson's Creek's" James Van Der Beek was unhappy with the footage he appeared in. This let to the third story of the anthology being cut from the film.  As it stands now, "Storytelling" is a fairly good film that while flawed in some respects still works on the whole due to the message it's trying to portray. The first segment of the film concentrates on how a real event can or will be considered fiction by anyone who hasn't directly witnessed the event. Who's to say that the events happened the way someone says they did. Part of human nature is to embellish a story and no one tells the exact same story the same way twice. "Non Fiction" is much more straightforward in the way it presents itself. We witness first hand the events which are then documented by Paul Giamatti's character. There is visual evidence of the way things occurred and the pictures don't lie.

Film maker Todd Solondz is never one to shy away from dealing with otherwise difficult subjects and "Storytelling" is no different as it includes a number of them. The film touches upon discussions of racism, physical and mental disabilities, race, rape, exploitation of the poor as well as unorthodox ramifications of the Holocaust.  He treats these subjects with a unique and often shocking view point that will no doubt offend certain viewers.  It is here where the film occasionally falters distancing the audience from the film. Solondz chooses to keep the focus on the subject matter and not the characters and by doing so, none of them are ever fully developed. They are very much stereotypical in the way they look, act and talk.  Those looking for realism in the portrayal of a teenager will finds hints in them but certainly nothing to break any new ground.

Storytelling
Performance wise there is a lot to like in "Storytelling" as Solondz and casting director Ann Goulder have assembled an excellent ensemble cast.  Dealing first with "Fiction" we have Selma Blair an actress who I feel is underrated in Hollywood. Sure she's made some bad choices but comes across nicely as the troubled Vi a spoiled rich girl who's finally away from her sheltered life and trying to make it in the real world. "Non Fiction" is populated by such veterans as Lupe Ontiveros, Julie Hagerty as well as newcomers Jonathan Osser, Mark Webber and Noah Fleiss.  While the aforementioned talent give their all, the real standouts in this segment are John Goodman and Paul Giamatti. Giamatti who came to my attention in "Private Parts" has quickly become a performer whose work I actively seek out. He's consistently funny and has a tremendous range with roles spanning from "Tony Clifton" in "Man on the Moon" to Limbo the entrepreneurial ape in "Planet of the Apes". John Goodman is probably best known as Dan Conner from the TV series "Roseanne" but he's also had a long career on the silver screen playing people like Babe Ruth in "The Babe" and cartoon icon Fred Flintstone.  Goodman gives a darkly comedic performance as Marty Livingston a father at the end of his rope with his son's lack of activity and ambition. Goodman's timing is perfect and his one liners are some of the film's best.  Commenting on each individual performance would yield thousands of words so for the sake of brevity I've only mentioned the stellar performances. A special mention should also be made for Jonathan Osser's performance as the youngest of the Livingston clan. His inquisitive performance was another comedic highlight for me. I hope to see more of this young actor in future films.

"Storytelling" like the director's earlier films "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Happiness" came under fire from the MPAA and was in danger of receiving an NC-17 rating for one questionable scene. Rather than simply editing the sequence out of the film Solondz felt so strongly about the scene that he chose to obscure the action by placing a big red box over the shots in question. This appeased the MPAA which passed the film with an "R" rating. International viewers got to see this scene as it was originally intended.

Todd Solondz who wrote and directed this film has crafted an interesting look at the differences between fiction and non fiction in a non mainstream and somewhat controversial style. The film contains all the elements expected by his cult group of fans. Sharp, witty dialogue, unique concept and a group of top notch actors. Sadly the film does hit a few road bumps along the way including a very short overall running time which is the result of the planned third story being dropped, one dimensional characters and a bleak and very heavy tone. Those of you simply looking to pass 90 minutes with a fun, lightweight comedy should look elsewhere. Solondz's "Storytelling" is an emotionally draining piece of filmmaking that paints a rather bleak painting of suburban life.  It's not perfect but it is quite good.

Video
New Line has gone all out giving viewers every possible viewing option with no fewer then four versions of "Storytelling" on this dual layer DVD. Viewers are given their choice of 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and full frame transfers for either the "R" rated theatrical cut or the unrated cut of the film.  One might be concerned that the abundance of different versions would cause space and quality issues but due to the film's short length and the use of seamless branching technology this doesn't become an issue. "Storytelling" as a film is certainly not the most visual piece of work I've seen in the past year and this DVD transfer does as good a job of presenting the film as it can. New Line does fine work given the short comings of the film, as the transfer features an adequate amount of sharpness and makes sure that the film never comes across as being too soft.  The majority of the "Fiction" segment of the film takes place in dark or barely lit interiors and as such has an inherently dark and murky look to it.  On the other hand the "Non Fiction" segment of the film is much brighter and clearer. Color use in the film is also limited as Solondz tries to keep to a more natural and subdued palette. This palette is rendered nicely with Vi's dirty pink hair seeming spot on and not looking too fake.  In terms of technical problems originating with the transfer from film to disc there is really not all that much to report. Some minor edge enhancement is included as well as a couple print marks but thankfully no pixelation was seen.  "Storytelling" will never look great but this is about as good I expected the film to look and for that New Line get's the thumbs up.

Audio
Like most other New Line Home Entertainment releases "Storytelling" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround. However there is really little need for the two tracks as "Storytelling" the film contains one of the most uninspired and uncreative audio mixes I've heard.  If there ever was a dialogue driven film this would be it.  Dialogue is clear and easily heard and aside from one line in "Fiction" is never strained. Music represents the rest of the aural experience and sounds fine with just the right amount of presence so that it doesn't run into a problem with the dialogue. There is almost no surround speaker usage as the only detectable sounds from those channels came during the film's opening and closing credits. Sound effects and subwoofer use are not an issue though I was pleasantly surprised to hear some ambience sound in the front channels.  I didn't compare the two mixes but I'd be surprised if there any difference between the two tracks.

Extras
"Reportedly" director Todd Solondz isn't a fan of the extra features aspect of a DVD release and as such "Storytelling" like "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Happiness" before it comes to DVD in a rather bare bones edition. The only supplemental feature included is the film's theatrical trailer. Fans of the film hoped that a longer cut or the deleted story featuring James Van Der Beek might have been included but that isn't the case.

Storytelling
Overall
"Storytelling" is the type of film that you either love or hate. It's sort of tongue in cheek handling of some difficult subjects will either cause viewers to embrace the film for what it is or shut off their TV in disgust. I appreciate the film for what it's trying to do and not what it could do. Certainly there is room for improvement and the film's short running time blows by quite quickly but I liked the film in it's current form. New Line's DVD edition does right by the film by including both the R and Unrated versions with above average audio and video quality. Unfortunately the only extra is the film's theatrical trailer which will no doubt disappoint fans of the film. If you liked "Storytelling" theatrically or you like director Todd Solondz's earlier work then pick up this disc.  If you haven't seen the film then I'd recommend this one as a rental first.


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