TIFF 2023: American Fiction, Wicked Little Letters, The Critic | Festivals & Awards

September 13, 2023 - Movies

“American Fiction” is about the bias and prejudices in the media and how such an imbalanced relationship with Black creatives places an undue burden on Black artists. A confrontation between Wright and Issa Rae’s character—who has published a book similar to Monk’s fake one—exemplifies how such philosophical battles play out between Black folks. But it’s also a film concerned with the crushing weight of secrets, of hiding who you are. Such a distance soon jeopardizes Monk’s idyllic relationship with his neighbor and new girlfriend, Coraline (Erika Alexander). 

Amid a cascading jazz score and the ocean vista of Monk’s beach house, Wright, displaying the dry wit he makes such precise use of in Wes Anderson’s films, offers some of his best internal work and caustic readings. But as many in my screening hooted and hollered, particularly white folks, discomforting some of my Black colleagues, I was left with one question: Did the white people in my screening love this film because they’re familiar with how the joke ends?

It almost feels like a trap to negatively review a film called “The Critic,” but here we go. Set in Pre-WWII London, England, 1936, director Anand Tucker’s period piece wades through historical anti-queer laws, anti-Black prejudices, and the rise of Fascism through the eyes of acerbic drama critic for The Daily Chronicle, Jimmy Erksine (Ian McKellen). Witty, learned, precise, vicious, and mean, Erskine is the kind of critic who can make or break your career. He’s also the stereotype most people align with critics: Suspicious of the proverbial common man as he lives in luxury, brutalizing all and sacrificing nothing.  

But his time atop the food chain is in danger: The owner of the Chronicle has passed away, and his son, David Brooke (Mark Strong), wants to clear out the old guard. Apart from his age, Esksine’s fierce hatred of the popular actress Nina Land (Gemma Arterton)—a performer Brooke loves—and the writer’s gay lifestyle, picking up trades and living with his Black secretary, make him a prime target of Brooke. When Erskine crosses the law, he loses his position. But he has a diabolical plan he hopes will return him to prominence, no matter the consequences. 

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