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[whitespace] 'Full Frontal'
Intimate Interview: Journalist Julia Roberts wants more than a story from actor Blair Underwood.

Abusement Park

Steve Soderbergh's 'Full Frontal' chronicles a day in the life of the entertainment industry

By Richard von Busack

THE USES OF ADVERSITY are sweet, so maybe there's even a use for self-indulgence. Steven Soderbergh's shot-on-digital instant movie Full Frontal will be a surprise to those who haven't seen his 16 mm opus Schizopolis. Back then, Soderbergh tried to regain his zest for filmmaking after a stretch of financial failures. Schizopolis was an unhinged satire held together by Richard Lester-like scenes of a crazy pantsless man fleeing his keepers. That was before Erin Brockovich and Ocean's 11, so presumably Full Frontal is a way of re-establishing his underground credibility. Whenever a newer, smaller, cheaper camera comes along, there are always those who enthuse over it: this time, they say, this time, we'll really be able to capture reality, without all that Hollywood bullshit. Soderbergh's approach is different. Being a cynic, he suggests that the minute you bring a camera around, the lies begin.

On the one hand, it's hard to imagine anyone who isn't simply soaking in cinema enjoying Full Frontal's self-referential silliness, derived from a script by the poet and solo performer Coleman Hough. On the other hand, it's good to see the instant-movie used for a comedy, instead of overwrought Dogmelodrama. Full Frontal is about a group of semiconnected people who are friends or partners with Gus (David Duchovny), a wealthy producer who's about to have a birthday. As the group goes forth on the day of Gus' birthday party, we watch the making of a movie within a movie--a romance of a celebrity journalist (Julie Roberts) tailing a rising movie star (Blair Underwood). Meanwhile Gus pressures Linda (Mary McCormack), a legitimate masseuse, to go illegitimate. Linda's sister, Lee (Catherine Keener), is affluent and miserable. Her husband, Carl (David Hyde Pierce), is a magazine editor about to lose wife and job.

The presence of Roberts makes the film noteworthy, but she's not unveiled, physically or emotionally. Roberts, burdened with an unfortunate Peter Pan haircut, plays it opaque. You're never sure whether her journalist character is trying to ask intimate questions or to actually seduce the actor. These sequences are knowing, especially if you've ever cringed reading the interviews in Movieline magazine, where the tone is so knowing that you're led to believe that the journalists are halfway into bed with their subjects.

Full Frontal lacks structural integrity. You could take bits and pieces of it away without making any difference. However, it's studded with wit and wisecracks--such as the slang term "doll head" to describe someone who's in the awkward stage right after a hair transplant. The center of the film is Keener's bitchy Lee, who breaks under the pressures of an affair, an almost ruined marriage and aging in a corporate world where it's not safe to be old. At the end of the day, she covers her face with her hand and weeps. The back of Catherine Keener's hand is more expressive than Julia Roberts' face.

Full Frontal (R; 107 min.), directed and photographed by Steven Soderbergh, written by Coleman Hough and starring Julia Roberts, Catherine Keener and Blair Underwood, opens Friday at Camera 7 in Campbell and the Century Cinema 16 in Mtn. View.

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From the August 1-7, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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