It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Every once in a while, perhaps as an exercise in humility, Steven Soderbergh makes a truly inexplicable film. There was the Cannes "secret screening" of his "Schizopolis" in 1996, which had audiences filing out with sad, thoughtful faces, and now here is "Full Frontal," a film so amateurish that only the professionalism of some of the actors makes it watchable.
This is the sort of work we expect from a film school student with his first digital camera, not from the gifted director of "Traffic" and "Out of Sight." Soderbergh directs at far below his usual level, and his cinematography is also wretched; known as one of the few directors who shoots some of his own films, he is usually a skilled craftsman, but here, using a digital camera and available light, he produces only a demonstration of his inability to handle the style. Many shots consist of indistinct dark blobs in front of blinding backlighting.
The plot involves a film within a film, on top of a documentary about some of the people in the outside film. The idea apparently is to provide a view of a day in the life of the Los Angeles entertainment industry and its satellites. The movie within the movie stars Julia Roberts as a journalist interviewing Blair Underwood; shots that are supposed to be this movie are filmed in lush 35mm, and only serve to make us yearn for the format as we see the other scenes in digital.
The doc is not quite, or entirely, a doc; there are voice-overs describing and analyzing some of the characters, but other scenes play as dramatic fiction, and there's no use trying to unsort it all because Soderbergh hasn't made it sortable. If this movie is a satire of the sorts of incomprehensible, earnest "personal" films that would-be directors hand out on cassettes at film festivals, then I understand it. It's the kind of film where you need the director telling you what he meant to do and what went wrong and how the actors screwed up and how there was no money for retakes, etc.