The Business of Fancydancing

August 17, 2008

A good friend brought over The Business of Fancydancing by Sherman Alexie.


How to even talk about this? This is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Period. One of the hardest, but still.

The basic plot is that Seymour Polatkin, a Spokane Indian poet, who now lives in Seattle and makes the Oprah circuit, etc. selling books of his poetry about Indian culture, life on the rez, and so forth to the cultural appropriation crowd, finds out his childhood friend on has died and is coming back home for the funeral.

All of that, is basically set up for an intense, and complex look at several childhood friends, identity, and culture, without ever cheapening out… to anything.

The characters are immensely complex, and real. I imagine some folks being completely at a loss at how to even deal with this movie. On the other hand, marginalized and third culture folks should get all of it, all too well. The characters never fall into easy categories and are both humanly flawed and deeply sympathetic.

The plot doesn’t cheapen out either. At no point do you get a pat, closure or catharsis that you’d expect. Issues are left unresolved, histories murky, confrontations never finished. When the movie dives into emotional space, it’s always ambigious, always unclear. You never get answers about what happened, you get answers about who the characters are.

Which is ultimately what this movie is about. People who’ve had to wear masks so deep, so long, both to outsiders, insiders, and the lies you tell yourself to rationalize your life to yourself, it’s that multiplicity of identity, of being, navigating contradictions, that’s what makes this movie. And living with all of this, unanswered questions, as life.

And saying that, I have to be very clear it’s not the usual trite, “ZOMG! I live between two worlds!” Disney crapola- I mean, where each relationship is another layer of identity to juggle, another set of personal feelings overlapping with political, overlapping with history.

It’s a beautiful movie that speaks so much truth to so much, I’m almost at a loss for words about what it really is.

(Completely small notes: It has great music. And it’s actually filmed in Seattle, Spokane, and Vashon Island, and not Vancouver. Like most movies about Seattle are. And Seymour Polatkin blows Heath Ledger’s Joker out of the water. No joke.)


  1. *chuckles* I still get confused at first as to whether people refer to the poem or the movie. Can’t remember which one introduced me to Alexie’s work after I first watched a morning interview of his for the movie Smoke Signals.

    Probably one of the very very few movies that I would ever give in and call a “favorite.”

    “It’s a beautiful movie that speaks so much truth to so much, I’m almost at a loss for words about what it really is.”


    Sadly, I kinda find hard to watch it with anyone other than myself. I’d usually turn into some sort of stupid like the customer in the second link.

  2. I agree with your assessment. This is movie is complex, heavy, and human, and it communicates the huge difficulties facing people with ties to two cultures without ever providing a pat answer on how to navigate them. I was really impressed and moved by this.

  3. hey, great review. I didn’t even know he had this movie out – I’ve only watched Smoke Signals.

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