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Full Frontal (18)

Review by: Graeme Kay | Rating: Two

A FASCINATING, superbly written, directed and acted, LA-based drama from Steven Soderbergh, which traces 24-hours in the lives of five people who are all trying to make better connection with each other as they prepare for the 40th birthday party of their mutual acquaintance, a powerful Hollywood producer named Gus (David Duchovny).

Carl (David Hyde Pierce) is a magazine journalist who writes screenplays on the side. He is married to Lee (Catherine Keener), a tyrannical human resources manager, who takes out her self-hatred on her fellow employees.

Carl doesn't know it, but Lee is planning to leave him for her lover, Calvin (Blair Underwood), a TV actor who is getting his first big break in Hollywood through a supporting role in a film in which he plays opposite Francesca (Julia Roberts).

Lee's sister, Linda (Mary McCormack), is a masseuse, who plys her trade in the hotels of LA.

On the day in question, Lee and Linda meet for lunch and Lee is dismayed to hear that her little sis' is set to link-up with a man she contacted through the Internet, several hours later in a hotel in Tuscon.

This is particularly galling for Lee, as she and Carl are keen for Linda to meet Gus, who they think will be a perfect match for her.

Cut to New York, where Linda's blind-date, who is directing an uproarious play about Hitler, is having trouble with his leading man (brilliantly played by Nicky Katt).

Meanwhile, back in LA, Carl is being fired because he is a 'drink beer from the glass' rather than 'from the bottle' kind of writer.

While all this is going on, Francesca and Calvin are playing out scenes from the film-within-a-film, Rendezvous.

As the 24-hours slip by, the characters discover various things about themselves and each other, all of which come to a head at Gus's party.

At first sight, the plans for this film - largely improvised dialogue, filming only in natural light and with a strict single-take-only rule on any scene, a screenplay that includes not only a film within-the-film, but also a play-within the film, the cast ordered to do their own make-up and wardrobe - must've looked like a recipe for disaster.

And in someone else's hands it might have been.

But Soderbergh, as he did with Sex, Lies and Videotape, skilfully mixes the ingredients into a deliciously witty and sophisticated urban-comedy that could become one of the biggest hits of the year.

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