HOLLYWOOD—So many people have talked about the smart writing in the dramedy “American Fiction” and I must say it is indeed one of the best written flicks I have seen for the 2023 movie season. It helps you get inside the mind of a writer and sometimes the struggles we have when we are crafting a story. Whether it is a novel or screenplay the stories we want to tell are not always appealing to everyone.

At its core that is the struggle of our protagonist Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison (Jeffrey Wright). He’s a writer and professor at a Los Angeles university who likes to challenge his students; so much to the point that he sometimes leaves his students in tears. His novels are critically acclaimed, but he doesn’t see the same success as other writers who buy into the stereotypes of Black culture.

Antics in the classroom get Monk being forced to take a leave of absence by his university and returning to his hometown of Boston. I felt there was a bit of cliché with this narrative point, but I found myself surprised because more unfolds. Monk has been estranged from the core of his family for quite some time and it becomes apparent upon arriving home there is tension with him, his sister, Lisa played to perfection by Tracee Ellis Ross and his mother Agnes (Leslie Uggams). Ross really envelops Lisa and was a character that as soon as she burst on the screen, I wanted to know so much more about her and her relationship with her brother.

She brings plenty of laughs, and it’s clear upon Monk reuniting with his sister after being estranged, he comes from a family of success. His father was a doctor, his sister is a doctor and his brother Cliff (Sterling K. Brown) is a doctor as well. However, Monk is the smart one in the family, not necessarily the Black Sheep, but something he aims to be and he wears it as a badge of honor. When an unexpected tragedy strikes the Ellison family, Monk finds himself having to pick up the pieces and this is where the audience sees that interaction between Cliff and Monk.

There is much talk about Brown’s performance and rightfully so. He teeters greatly between charismatic, hilarious, truth and heart. It is truly a standout performance from the actor that so many are aware of because of his work on the heavy drama “This is Us.” Cord Jefferson helms the script and directs this moving flick that is bit of two tales: one about family and one about culture in the scope of literary art. I did enjoy the family aspect of the narrative a lot more than the literary battle for Monk.

Monk is frustrated with his writing and the accolades to a fellow writer, Sintara Golden (Issa Rae). Rae is a treasure in this role and her book “We’s Lives In Da Ghetto” had me on the floor laughing. When she read that excerpt everyone in the theater was howling, just howling with chuckles because as an African American you can connect with the struggle, but at the same time the silliness of what some people will eat up whether it is fact or real about how the Black culture is perceived, and the so-called tales people ‘think’ the world wants or needs to see.

Out of frustration, he crafts a story, “My Pafology” that turns into a blockbuster novel that everyone is clamoring to claim the rights to. Be aware, Monk writes the novel under an alias and he finds himself having to indulge in a stereotype that is annoying him to the core in the process. Shout out to John Ortiz who portrays Monk’s agent, Arthur. He is another supporting character that delivers great laughter throughout the flick.

“American Fiction” truly is an ensemble cast, but I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of a man grappling with trying to balance his professional and personal life and he constantly gets in his own way along the process. Advice is given to him by his family and friends, but he refuses to acknowledge. I found the movie so poignant because as a African American writer, you question all the time about writing a story that caters to what you think the world wants to see compared to telling stories that people don’t know about but should be aware of.

It is Hollywood reflecting Hollywood in terms of doing what sells, even if you’re put into a situation where you might go against your morals, which is what Monk battles with, as he encounters success he’s never seen before and not being able to be authentic with his family and friends about the novel he actually wrote that he is not getting the credit for. Wright delivers a top-tier performance and it is no surprise why he earned that Best Actor Oscar nomination this month for his work.  Go into seeing “American Fiction” with little to no knowledge and you will be thoroughly entertained with the ride you just took.