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Full Frontal

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Full Frontal
from Film Forum, 08/08/02

Director Steven Soderbergh has compiled an eclectic repertoire of high-profile hits like Traffic, Out of Sight, and Ocean's 11, and low-profile arthouse favorites including The Limey, King of the Hill, and sex, lies, and videotape. Now he has taken an idea that would usually be an obscure art film only seen by film students and filled it with stars such as Julia Roberts and David Duchovny. The result is Full Frontal, a movie intent on confounding viewer expectations. Its experimental spirit is so audacious, in fact, that even the critics who usually applaud his every move are bewildered.

Full Frontal tells the story of the making of a movie, and also shows us a good deal of that movie. Conversations take place in and around the project, challenging viewers to separate what is real and what is fiction. Along the way, it pokes fun at the superficiality of Hollywood lifestyles—an easy and popular target. But none of this impresses critics much, and some religious media critics add to that their usual complaints about seeing immoral lifestyles on the big screen.

The USCCB critic calls it "equal parts witty and tedious, following a story line that doesn't bring its disparate parts together satisfactorily." Phil Boatwright calls it "a very uneven production" that "has some sophisticated humor mixed with lowbrow shtick and much sexuality." Paul Bicking (Preview) says it highlights "morally empty lives both on the screen and in the 'real' life of the film industry."

Mainstream critics are trying to decide if the movie is an interesting experiment or a self-indulgent failure. Ebert calls it "a film so amateurish that only the professionalism of some of the actors makes it watchable." Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly) is not so dismayed: "This is all fun; certainly it keeps us admiring the director's talent for invention and excited by the liberated performances of so many favorite actors jazzed by Soderbergh's trust in their instincts. The movie would be more rewarding, however, and less of a self-contained exercise in style (and performance), were it not so besotted with its own delights and tricks."

from Film Forum, 08/15/02

Full Frontal, the new low-budget, all-star Steven Soderbergh film continues to confound critics with its puzzling movie-within-a-movie plot structure and its ad-libbed, unconventional scenes between big stars. We noted several critics' displeasure last week.

This week, Holly McClure (Crosswalk) writes, "I enjoy Soderbergh's work and thought this one had to be good because of the talent in it, but I was sadly disappointed in this movie and thought it was a waste of time."

Tom Snyder (Movieguide) allows it a few praises: "There are some funny scenes and some touching scenes and some scenes that provide a few insights into human behavior. There's even a reconciliation scene between the writer and his wife. Still, it's mostly just another vague humanist exercise that offers vague humanist answers to contemporary life. Hence, it is just as forgettable and just as pointless as too many of the mainstream movies that studios and filmmakers have been producing these days."

Mainstream critics continued to debate the film's merits. Greg Potter (Vancouver Courier) turns in a clever criticism: "To steal a line from Apocalypse Now, director Steven Soderbergh is out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of acceptable human conduct, and very obviously he has gone insane. There's no other way to explain this mishmashed garble of rambling vignettes, shaggy-dog tales and self-obsessed Gucci-shoe gazing that seemingly takes longer to watch than it did to make (18 days). Though it might be convenient to argue that the serpentine story-within-a-story structure is what makes Full Frontal so challenging, the simple fact is that there is no story to begin with; thus, the film is not so much challenging as chafing."