Soderbergh: The laughing journeyman

Brad Pitt and Blair Underwood in one of the films within Full Frontal (2002).

The career of Steven Soderbergh is a case study in the virtues of adaptability, speed, efficiency, and self-deprecation when working within the machine of Hollywood at the turn of the millennium.  Has there ever been another filmmaker whose attitude toward his work so often seems to be sum-uppable by the phrase “fuck it”—and whose films end up being the better for it?  In the hands of another director something like Full Frontal (2002) could have been sunk by its own uselessness and frivolity.  But Soderbergh’s light touch buoys it up.  (The same could be said of Soderbergh’s Oceans franchise.)  Full Frontal is a shaggy, cheeky, somewhat mean-spirited Hollywood satire populated by mostly insufferable characters in whose fates we remain completely uninvested, and yet it’s funny and surprising enough, and is whipped through so quickly, that it becomes oddly compelling.  Soderbergh’s films are never personal; you never get the sense that he’s trying to sell you something phony.  And while that can make his films feel somewhat cold, you also never feel like he’s trying to feed you the kinds of bullshit lines that a million other Hollywood filmmakers are pushing in bad faith. 

Full Frontal also has the distinction of being the second Hollywood satire in which Julia Roberts appears in a hilarious parody of a studio movie—the other, of course, being Robert Altman’s The Player (1992).  Full Frontal is hardly a masterpiece on the level of Altman’s film, but it’s a grim, punchy joke in its own right.

Clinch scenes: Julia Roberts with Bruce Willis in Habeas Corpus, the film within The Player (1992) (top), and with Blair Underwood in Rendezvous, the film within Full Frontal.

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