AMERICAN FICTION*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy
The film opens in a college classroom, where author/professor Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is giving a lecture over the reading of a written work called “The Accidental N—–“. One of the students, a young white woman, objects to the title being written on the board for all to see, despite Monk, a black man, saying he sees nothing wrong with it. This is brought to his superiors, who say that other students have expressed discomfort over the reading he chose, so they give give him mandatory time off.
A little while later, Monk goes back to his hometown of Boston and speaks to his agent Arthur (John Ortiz), who informs Monk that nine publishers have passed on his latest book. Monk then attends a book festival as a guest panelist before being told about another acclaimed author, Sintara Golden (Issa Rae), who is having a panel of her own. He sits in and listens to Sintara give a reading from her book, “We’s Lives in Da Ghetto”. Despite having prominent black stereotypes in the writing, the book is a critically acclaimed best seller.
Monk later goes to see his sister Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross) at the hospital where she works as a doctor. They go to visit their mother Agnes (Leslie Uggams), whose health is withering and lives with her housekeeper Lorraine (Myra Lucretia Taylor). Monk and Lisa have dinner while Agnes is in the bathroom, where they talk about their other sibling Cliff (Sterling K. Brown) who ditched the family due to his sour relationship with his parents. Monk was close to their father, who committed suicide years earlier and was said to have had an affair with a white woman.
The next day, Monk goes to a book store and is annoyed to find his books in the African American Studies section. He goes to put them in a different section before Lisa stops him. They go out for lunch and are chatting when she suddenly suffers a heart attack. Monk takes Lisa to the hospital, but she passes away.
Cliff returns to join his brother and mother (and Lorraine) outside their father’s beach house to scatter Lisa’s ashes after delivering a eulogy. A neighbor tries to bother them for not having a permit, but Cliff scares him off. Monk and Cliff bond over wine, the latter having recently gone through a divorce because his wife found out he was gay after catching him with another man, so he now turns to sex and drugs. The brothers then see water dripping from upstairs, and Monk goes to find Agnes in the bathroom sitting with a vacant expression while she leaves the bath water running.
Monk later meets a neighbor to the beach house, Coraline (Erika Alexander). After accidentally making an insensitive comment regarding Mr. Ellison’s suicide, unaware that Monk was his son, she invites Monk inside for some wine. Monk meets a man living with Coraline, revealed to be her soon-to-be-ex-husband. Coraline later invites Monk to go for a drink after telling him she has enjoyed some of his written works.
After taking Agnes to the doctor and learning she is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, Monk starts to write a new book after seeing more praise directed toward Sintara. He starts to write something called “My Pathology”, before retitling it “My Pafology” and making it a more ghetto-themed gangster story, imagined with two main characters, Willy The Wonker (Keith David) and Van Go Jenkins (Okieriete Onaodowan). Monk also writes it under the pseudonym “Stagg R. Leigh”. He sends the manuscript to Arthur, who says he cannot send it out for publishing, but Monk argues that it is the exact type of “black stuff” that the publishers wanted from him.
Monk starts a relationship with Coraline but has to start making arrangements to move Agnes out of her home since Lisa had been paying for the bills before she died. Monk then goes to meet with Arthur, who says that they managed to sell pre-emptive rights to “My Pafology” to a publisher, Paula Baderman (Miriam Shor), who has usually turned down Monk’s work, for $750,000. Monk and Arthur call Paula and try to make a deal, with Monk pretending to be “Stagg” and affect a gangster demeanor.
Later, Monk has dinner with Agnes, Lorraine, and Coraline. When he and Coraline start to get intimate later, they hear Lorraine calling out because Agnes has gone missing. They run around the beach until Monk finds her walking toward the water. He then starts to make arrangements to move Agnes into hospice care.
Arthur gets Monk a meeting with a movie producer named Wiley (Adam Brody) to adapt “My Pafology” into a film. He goes in character as Stagg to convince Wiley he is the real deal until he sees an ambulance out the window right by the hospice center where Agnes is being kept, so Monk runs out on the meeting, only to find that Agnes is fine and the ambulance was for someone else. Arthur later tells Monk that this convinced Wiley that he is the real deal since he thought “Stagg” ran out after hearing police sirens. Monk also later gets a call from someone inviting him to be a judge for the upcoming Literary Awards, alongside Sintara, which he agrees to even though he knows they are just diversity picks.
Monk and Arthur later speak to Paula again, along with an associate of hers, John Bosco (Michael Cyril Clayton). They claim to love “My Pafology”, but their choice of words comes off as condescending to Monk, so he tells them that he wants to change the book’s title simply to “Fuck”. While baffled at first, the publishers agree to it, to the surprise of both Monk and Arthur.
While on a date with Coraline, Monk finds Cliff swimming in his pool outside. Although he tries to get Cliff out, he pulls Monk into the pool. The two bond with Coraline before going the next morning to visit Agnes. Monk is told that she had to be restrained for almost striking a nurse. Cliff tries to dance with Agnes to make her feel better, but the moment is ruined by her crudely telling Cliff, “I always knew you were a queer”. He leaves disappointed and angry before telling Coraline that their family will break her heart.
“Fuck” gets published and becomes a number one bestseller. Monk promotes the book as Stagg. This leads to the FBI trying to investigate who “Stagg” might be, though Arthur tells Monk not to worry about that. Later, during dinner with Coraline, he finds a copy of “Fuck” that someone gave her. She says she likes it, though he doesn’t tell her that he is Stagg, instead criticizing his own work for being stereotypical. Coraline kicks Monk out of her house as a result of his behavior.
Monk helps Lorraine move things out of Agnes’s house as Lorraine prepares for her wedding to family friend Maynard (Raymond Anthony Thomas). On the day of the wedding, Monk and Agnes go back to her house to find Cliff there with two men, as he never went back home as was originally believed. Lorraine still invites Cliff to the wedding, and Monk walks her down the aisle. During the reception, Monk and Cliff talk about their father’s suicide, and Cliff encourages Monk to patch things up with Coraline.
Monk later joins Sintara and other authors picked to be judges for the Literary Awards, with “Fuck” having been submitted for consideration. While the other three white judges praise “Fuck”, Sintara calls it pandering. Monk later privately talks to her, arguing that her book also panders to the white community as “trauma porn”, though she turns it into an argument against black women and says it isn’t her fault if white people ate up what she wrote. Despite their votes against it, “Fuck” ends up being picked as the winner.
Monk prepares for the upcoming awards ceremony, and he tries to invite Coraline to be his date, but she never responds to him. Before going to the ceremony, Monk visits Agnes one more time and talks about his father’s affair, which she knew about. He is left disappointed when she refers to him as “Cliff” while talking to him.
At the ceremony, “Fuck” wins the Literary Award. Monk starts to go up to the stage, seemingly preparing to reveal himself as Stagg. The scene then cuts to Monk meeting with Wiley on the set of his blaxploitation film “Plantation Annihilation,” and the scene of Monk accepting the award was just an ending he pitched to Wiley. He doesn’t really like it, so Monk pitches another ending where “Stagg” leaves to reconcile with Coraline. Wiley isn’t feeling that one either, so Monk goes with an over-the-top ending where Stagg goes to accept the award, only for police to raid the ceremony and gun him down on stage. Wiley loves the ending and accepts it. A jaded Monk then leaves the studio with Cliff driving him home.
Thelonious "Monk" Ellison is a black author and professor forced to take a leave when his lectures on written works about race (one explicitly featuring the n-word in its title), so he returns to his hometown of Boston where his sister Lisa and their mother Agnes lives. Lisa dies of a heart attack, which prompts the return of their brother Cliff, who has gone through a divorce because his wife found out he is gay, and Agnes starts to suffer from Alzheimer's.
Monk, whose previous books haven't sold well, starts to write a stereotypically ghetto gangster story called "My Pafology" after seeing another black author, Sintara Golden, achieve success by writing a similarly stereotypical story. Monk's manuscript sells after white publishers think it to be an "authentic" black story, but after feeling talked down to by the publishers, he tells them to change the book's name to "Fuck", which they surprisingly agree to.
The turmoil in Monk's life involving his family takes a toll on him, particularly in his new relationship with a woman named Coraline, who breaks up with him due to his behavior. Monk is later invited to be a judge for the Literary Awards, where "Fuck" is considered for the grand prize. The book wins and is later set to become a major film, to Monk's chagrin. He leaves the film studio after a meeting with producer Wiley, with Cliff trying to encourage him as he moves on in life.