Fear, Anxiety and Depression (1989): Todd Solondz Disappointing Feature Debut

Todd Solondz’s feature debut, Fear, Anxiety & Depression, which he wrote, directed and starred in, is a disappointing film, a fragmented, episodic comedy that owes it existence to the work of Woody Allen, specifically “Annie Hall,” which Solondz must have seen and studied as an NYU film student.

Solondz himself plays (not too convincingly) Ira, a fledgling, neurotic playwright, a bespectacled physically unappealing New Yorker, who faces an endless series of professional and romantic frustrations.

Sharply uneven in writing, direction and technical execution, “Fear, Anxiety & Depression” feels like an amateurish first work, one that contains some interesting ideas and dark humor, but lacks coherent narrative structure, engaging characters, and clear point of view.

As director, influenced by early New Wave works by Godard and Jacques Demy, Solondz inserts some musical interludes of songs specifically written for the picture, which all the more call attention to the narrative problems.

Solondz reveals a good eye for casting, and the very young Stanley Tucci is excellent as Ira’s nemesis, a peer who embarks on a writing career on a whim and achieves instant success as an Off-Broadway playwright.

Solondtz’s breakthrough would come six year later with the black comedy and coming-of-age tale, “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” which I happened to review out of the 1995 Toronto Film Fest, while I was senior film critic for Variety.