Full Frontal is director Steven Soderbergh's dogme version of Day For Night. Soderbergh, who is proving himself the most versatile filmmaker on the planet, wanted to make a small, guerrilla-style comedy after last year's large-scale heist flick, Ocean's Eleven. A writer friend, Coleman Hough, sent him a few scenes she'd been working on, and Soderbergh encouraged her to string together her studies of strained relationships into a screenplay.
The result is a mesmerizing stop-and-go drama/comedy that Soderbergh shot mostly on video in 18 days with a first-rate cast: Julia Roberts, David Hyde Pierce, Catherine Keener, David Duchovny, Blair Underwood, Nicky Katt and Mary McCormack.
Set in L.A., it follows a group of people making a movie that stars Underwood as a TV actor making the leap into feature films and Roberts as a journalist sent to write an exposé on him.
This section of the film is shot on celluloid. The other part, shot on digital video, follows the people associated with the filming -- including the nerdy, nervous writer (Hyde Pierce) and his bitchy wife (Keener), who's having an affair with Underwood.
Confusing? Yes and no.
Writer Hough has manufactured a story that's more about people not connecting than connecting. There's an awful lot of dialogue, but it's mostly acrimonious, and frustrating to listen to since the characters, all of whom are self-involved, never get to the point. It's disconcerting at times, and leaves us feeling unbalanced.
But you get the sense that Soderbergh is behind the camera giggling. Full Frontal could have been an Actors Studio project or a test Soderbergh set for himself and the actors.
In fact, early on he sent the actors a list of 10 rules to follow. Among other things, they had to provide their own clothes for wardrobe, do their own makeup and hair, get by without a trailer and drive themselves to the set. Rule 2: "If you are unable to drive yourself to the set, a driver will pick you up, but you will probably become the subject of ridicule. Either way you must arrive alone."
He also told them they'd have fun whether they wanted to or not.
Full Frontal isn't Soderbergh's most cohesive or best work, but it's definitely his most relaxed. If you love movies and get off on the behind-the-scenes mayhem and self-absorbed nonsense of moviemaking, you'll love it.
The poignant aspect of the film, the idea that you have to work at keeping love and marriage alive, doesn't quite pan out. Keener's and Hyde Pierce's relationship never gels, but I don't mind. Simply watching Soderbergh messing around and having fun is a pleasure in firstname.lastname@example.org
Full Frontal directed by Steven Soderbergh, written by Coleman Hough, produced by Scott Kramer and Gregory Jacobs, with Julia Roberts, Blair Underwood, Catherine Keener, David Hyde Pierce and David Duchovny. 101 minutes. An Alliance Atlantis Films release. Opens Friday (August 2). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 74. Rating: NNN