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'Full Frontal'

Soderbergh and cast of stars go back to raw filmmaking with 'Full Frontal'

Friday, August 02, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The story of the making of "Full Frontal" is nearly as interesting as the movie itself. Director Steven Soderbergh sent the script to his cast with a set of 10 rules the likes of which mainstream Hollywood has never (or rarely) seen.

'Full Frontal'

RATING: R for language and some sexual content

STARRING: Julia Roberts, Blair Underwood, Catherine Keener

DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh

WEB SITE: www.fullfrontal.com


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Among them: "You will drive yourself to the set. ... You will pick, provide and maintain your own wardrobe. ... You will create and maintain your own hair and makeup. ... You will have fun whether you want to or not."

If anyone can order Julia Roberts to have fun, it's Soderbergh. After all, he directed the pretty woman to an Oscar for "Erin Brockovich" and guided her through the masculine maze of "Ocean's Eleven." And darned if she doesn't look as if she's having fun -- as does Blair Underwood, who has never seemed more charismatic, sexier, funnier or better-cast.

"Full Frontal" is closer to Soderbergh's "sex, lies and videotape" than his conventional "Ocean's Eleven" romp. The movie was shot using a combination of film and digital videotape, which looks like fuzzy old home videos, during 18 days in November. That's the filmmaking equivalent of God creating the world in two days instead of seven.

It's a movie about movies for people who love movies and will find it delicious when they recognize the names being dropped or the inside jokes. "Full Frontal" is a picture that plays, in loop-the-loop fashion, with what's real and what's artificial, with how easily we confuse fantasy with reality and how you should never underestimate the power of serendipity.

The screenplay, by Coleman Hough, is set in Los Angeles and introduces seven characters whose connections will be made clear by the end. It builds to a 40th birthday party that has more than the usual element of surprise to it.

Underwood is Calvin, a television star who is getting his big movie break by playing Nicholas, sidekick to a really big movie star. Roberts is Francesca, an actress who is playing Catherine, a writer doing a celebrity profile on Nicholas in the movie within the movie.

Also tossed into the blender of L.A. life, like ingredients in a frothy, fruity summer drink: Carl Bright (David Hyde Pierce), a writer at Los Angeles Magazine who also pens screenplays; his wife, Lee (Catherine Keener), a vice president of human resources with a most unorthodox style; Linda (Mary McCormack), a masseuse who is Lee's sister; an actor (Nicky Katt) who is taking his role as Hitler in "The Sound and the Fuhrer" a little too seriously; and Gus (David Duchovny), a producer who is about to celebrate a milestone birthday.

It's hard to describe "Full Frontal" without giving away all of the best jokes or lines but it's filled with wonderful bits -- a neighbor constantly clad in costume, a riff about hair loss, a running gag about porn names, the hilariously horrible Hitler production -- along with some emotions and family histories that run deep. "I'm 41 tomorrow, the age where I could have a stroke in the middle of the night," one character observes.

Just when you think you know what you're watching, Soderbergh peels away another layer and it turns out you're watching something entirely different. There are echoes of real life (Underwood does a brilliant rap on black actors that includes a mention of "The Pelican Brief" starring, of course, Julia Roberts) and a twist involving Roberts that is funnier today than it was even a month ago.

"Full Frontal" is not for everyone, and you may want to take the title seriously. In these days when celebrity profiles are more widely read (in some circles) than the stock tables and when most studios are looking for a franchise they can milk for years, it's a delightful diversion.

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