It took about ten seconds for Steven Soderbergh to gain a foothold in the world of film with his low-budget, but meaningful and slightly perverse debut Sex, Lies, and Videotape. The themes and style of this film were seemingly forgotten by Soderbergh once he began to make the Ocean's Eleven trilogy. But in 2002, something pulled Soderbergh back into the dark, seedy underbelly type genre when he pitched Full Frontal to Miramax (rest in peace).
This is not to say that Soderbergh ever really abandoned his roots in depicting subtle human decay: Traffic, The Good German, and, more recently, The Girlfriend Experience all maintained the integrity and tongue in cheek gravity that has become associated with Soderbergh's pastiche. In all of the abovementioned, he is sardonically pointing out, "Yeah, life is absurdly unjust, but why not have George Clooney, Brad Pitt, or Matt Damon endure some sort of plight to make the human experience more palatable." What sets Full Frontal apart is that it is an unquestionable reconsideration of Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Soderbergh probably sold it so unabashedly that way to the Weinsteins just so he could get it made. Like Arty (played by Just Shoot Me's Enrico Colantoni), one of the characters in the film, says, "It's all marketplace bullshit."
The other most notable characteristic shared between Sex, Lies... and Full Frontal is the absolutely voyeuristic quality one feels in observing either film. In Sex, Lies..., the reasons for this sentiment are understandable: You've got James Spader (never one to pass up a role as an asshole or pervert) taping various women sharing their intensely private sexual history. But in Full Frontal, there is something more indirect about the voyeurism. The film seems to go along as any narrative normally would up until the middle, when all of the sudden the viewer is alerted to the fact that this entire film is just that--a film. None of the other events up until this point were actually real. Julia Roberts is not a reporter named Catherine, but an actress named Francesca playing her. Her interview subject, Nicholas, is not really that person either, but an actor named Calvin (played by Blair Underwood). The quagmiric character entanglements persist as the film progresses, particularly between Lee (Catherine Keener), Carl (David Hyde Pierce), and Nicholas.
While the majority of Soderbergh's movies possess a despairing air, Full Frontal is again the bastard film child in that it sticks rather firmly to its general disconsolateness. Even some of the more obscure subplots, like Nicky Katt as Hitler in one of Arty's plays, do not provide very much in the way of comic relief. Yet, there is one piece of dialogue that threads the entire string of misery together, making sense of it in a way. It comes from Carl, well after he's been fired from his job at Los Angeles magazine and his dog has nearly died from overdosing on pot brownies, in the simple, but incisively written: "You just have to keep hoping that...there's more."