Steven Soderbergh’s latest film turns the camera on Hollywood in a subtle examination of the seamier sides of the star factory. Multiple subplots entwine to create a patchwork of verite and staged scenes that leave a tattered fringe of ambiguity instead of smartly sewing up the plot, Hollywood-style.
Playing off the title, Full Frontal is really a full-on assault of the movie industry and its duplicitous characters and institutions. However, if you banked on this film showing Julia Roberts naked flesh, think again, my friend. There is partial nudity of one character, but mum’s the word on who or how.
Francesca (Julia Roberts) and Calvin (Blair Underwood) play romantic opposites in Rendezvous, the film within a film that exposes the cliche and compartmentalized nature of studio movies. Intermittently interrupting the sleek, studio footage, are grainy, home movie-esque scenes that represent “reality.” Quirky, forty-something couple Lee (Catherine Keener), an eccentric human resources executive who uses a blow-up globe to assess her employees’ job productivity, and Carl (David Hyde Pierce), a washed-up screenwriter ? who wrote Rendezvous, spar in their marital unhappiness. Lee’s sister (Mary McCormack) is a cyber-dating masseuse, who has yet to meet the man on the other end of the computer, an artsy theater director (Enrico Colantoni). Used in other movies for shock value, Soderbergh leisurely illuminates his characters’ interrelations to drive home the reality that everybody knows everybody in Hollywood, or everybody knows everybody’s agent.
Much like the Mexican footage in Traffic, Soderbergh over saturates a portion of the Full Frontal’s footage to give it a home video quality. These grainy, handheld shots starkly juxtapose with the studio-quality footage of the film-within-a-film, creating two separate but allied realities.
Brad Pitt is one of the only characters in the film who plays himself and grounds the film in a semblance of reality. Whether it be his face on magazine covers or the comical part he plays in the “fake” film directed by none other than David Fincher, his presence gives the movie an added edge while deriding the indisputable star power of Hollywood’s actors and actresses.
Soderbergh plays on many Hollywood taboos, most pointedly, black actors’ role in Hollywood cinema. In one scene Calvin has sex with a white female, and the scene is blurred, showing only splotches of lightness and darkness to lessen the black male’s historically feared sexual potency. Earlier in the film Calvin rants in a superbly crafted riff to Francesca about the marginality of blacks in film.
Full Frontal has been dubbed Soderbergh’s unofficial sequel to sex, lies and videotape. Its only similarities are the low budget nature and the quest to examine the discordance between what’s in front of the camera and what’s behind it. To keep the film’s budget below $2 million, Soderbergh created rules stipulating that all the actors had to provide their own wardrobe, maintain their own hair and make-up, and drive themselves to and from the set every day.
Soderbergh has enough Hollywood credit from his studio blockbusters to bankroll and popularize his more experimental endeavors like Full Frontal. For him to direct such a satiric and poignant film leads many to believe that he knows how to play cards in Hollywood and win most of the hands