Hearing in advance about the formal experimentation by independent writer-director Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness) in this feature raised my hopes, but I was disappointed to find that Solondz is now reduced to treating his characters like puppets. His lack of regard for them fits in fairly well with his division of the universe between sadistic predators and hapless victims, but not with the viewer’s desire to consider the fates of actual people. In the first and better episode, Fiction, sexual intrigues interface with a creative-writing class, and Solondz tweaks various PC reflexes about race and disability. The second, Non-Fiction, which is roughly twice as long and three times as loose, involves a disgruntled documentary filmmaker taking on a dysfunctional suburban family with a maid from El Salvador. There’s undoubtedly food for thought here if you dig for it, but the things Solondz does to his actors, supposedly in the interests of satire, didn’t make me want to reach for a shovel. With Selma Blair, Leo Fitzpatrick, Robert Wisdom, Paul Giamatti, Mark Webber, John Goodman, and Julie Hagerty. 88 min. (JR)

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