Another Spin with One of 2023’s Best Films – AMERICAN FICTION on Home Video

American Fiction was easily one of the most devastatingly smart and entertaining films of 2023, marking a huge directorial debut for multihyphenate Cord Jefferson, who picked up an Oscar for best adapted screenplay (the film is based on the novel Erasure by Percival Everett).

Jeffrey Wright has become a welcome presence as a supporting actor, which makes it such a distinct pleasure to see him take the lead in a truly great film. Wright stars as Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison, a talented writer who struggles to find an audience for his thoughtful, mature literature in a publishing world dominated by trends.

He’s particularly repulsed by the common tropes that seem to reduce the black experience to narratives about ghetto life and slavery. Yes, these themes and stories matter, he affirms, but we are also more than this. And while he struggles to market his own books, it’s hugely frustrating that trendier, tropier, and ostensibly “blacker” narratives outpace his more nuanced work.

As an off-the-cuff mobilization of these feelings, Monk angrily writes My Pafology”, a fake novel written under a pen name, as a send-up of the narratives he despises. The novel milks every trope to its most absurd degree. Its intent is entirely offensive, a sort of middle finger to the publishers who will read it.

Just one problem: No one gets the joke, and the book is immediately picked up and met with a lucrative publishing deal, movie talks, and accolades for its gritty realism. Suddenly, Monk is faced with an unexpected situation of being part of the problem, and facing his own hypocrisy and willingness to sell out – as well as the realization that his judgmental attitudes may sometimes be misjudging.

On rewatching the film, especially as a more casual watch outside of awards-season considerations, I found that I loved it even more. Satire can often tend to be kind of smirky and quietly funny, but with American Fiction, I often found myself screaming with laughter. The humor is not subtle.

But it’s also a film with two sides, and while in my first viewing I was more wrapped up in the satirical and hilarious plot of Monk and his literary shenanigans, this time around I was more taken with the family side of the story. The death of his sister and sudden firing from his teaching position find Monk moving back to his hometown and reunited with his family, making him suddenly more acutely aware of their needs. Historically the family seems to have been financially well off, but things have turned. His aging mother (Leslie Uggams) is slowly succumbing to dementia, and needs professional care. His recently divorced and outed brother Clifford (Sterling K. Brown) is caught up a flurry of drugs, alcohol, and newfound promiscuity. Monk falls in love with his neighbor Coraline (Erika Alexander), but their relationship is hampered by his judgmental attitudes as well as his furtiveness around his book deal.

There’s great depth to all this, in showing shagginess of adult relationships and family ties. There’s a lot of love in this family, but also a lot of pain. In one sense, this fuels the plot: Unable to sell his books and fired from his University job, Monk desperately needs money to take care of his mother. Despite his long-held beliefs about his writing and what he stands for, the truth is that he’s very motivated to sell out.

As much as the “A” plot is hilarious and witty, all the “B” subplot is beautiful and very moving and alive with both tenderness and anger, and on second-go-round, clearly just as critical to why this film works so beautifully.

The Package

American Fiction is now available on Blu-ray from Warner Bros. A digital code is included with the Blu-ray edition. My copy came with a slipcover.

Special Features and Extras

As much as I love this film, which is absolutely worth rewatching and owning, beyond the quality of the movie this Blu-ray edition does nothing to earn a spot on your shelf. It’s a no-effort release with no supplementary content whatsoever, not even a trailer or commentary. Even the digital copy is disappointing: despite this being a Warner Bros. release, the digital version is not Movies Anywhere capable – it’s Vudu (aka Fandango at Home) only.

With so much rich thematic material and terrific cast performances, there could have been a lot of value in exploring the behind-the-scenes of the movie, but alas, nothing. It pains me to say this as a physical media proponent, but you might just as well buy this on iTunes.

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and web display.

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