Adapted from Percival Everett’s 2001 novel by the director Cord Jefferson, “American Fiction” boasts a funny and appealing lead performance by Jeffrey Wight as Thelonious Ellison, a middle-aged Black American literature professor who, although a good teacher, has not published anything in years. Monk, as he is referred to by his colleagues, balks against the prevailing idea that an African-American author should only write about the African-American experience.
Unfortunately for the audience, after Monk is forced to go on extended leave and returns to his hometown of Boston, the film evolves from a satire on the American publishing industry to a family drama, and the movie never fully recovers. What was originally smart and biting becomes cliched and soppy. Wright, however, who never sets a foot wrong, keeps you watching.
With a talented supporting cast, which includes Leslie Uggams as Monk’s mother, who is in the early stages of dementia, Tracee Ellis Ross as his sister Lisa, Sterling K. Brown as his brother Cliff, who is just coming out of the closet, Erika Alexander as Coraline, his neighbor with whom he has a tentative romantic relationship and Issa Rae as Sinatra Golden who has just written the bestseller We’s Lives in Da Ghetto a book that encapsulates everything Monk despises about the current state of African-American literature.