Review: A True Story (2013)

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Cast: , ,
Director: Malcolm Goodwin
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy
Official Website: Here


Editor’s Notes: A True Story opens in limited release tomorrow, October 25th.

“Based,” the opening credits inform us, “on things that never actually happened… and some that did”, A True Story occupies a relationship with reality that’s utterly mystifying, if only occasionally engagingly so. Branding a meta-narrative akin to Adaptation, with screenwriter central characters eventually enacting the very story they’re trying to write, it’s a film that feels—as Jonze’s never did—like a story that’s emerged from the inability to tell anything else. That doesn’t prevent it from being entertaining in the process, at least, and writer-producer-stars Cameron Fyffe and Tyler McGee, together with director Malcolm Goodwin, have laden a lacking story with enough in the way of endearing wit to salvage the film from the self-satisfaction to which its self-awareness might have damned it.

A True Story occupies a relationship with reality that’s utterly mystifying, if only occasionally engagingly so. Branding a meta-narrative akin to Adaptation, with screenwriter central characters eventually enacting the very story they’re trying to write…

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The shadow of Clerks looms large over the movie’s opening moments, as Fyffe and Tyler, playing roommates cum scripting partners Mike and Matt, encounter each other en route to and from their respective jobs and trade barbs with Smith-like vulgarity and knowing movie references—though a 2005-set scene where characters discuss There Will Be Blood is bafflingly anachronous—aplenty. Also inherited from Clerks, less enjoyably, is the persistent anaturalism of the monotone dialogue: there’s a scene late in the film where a potential producer for the pair’s script reacts to their insistence that they must star with laughter; that A True Story’s producers number Fyffe and Taylor themselves is just about all that needs to be said about that. They often interact as though in the midst of a read-through, undoing the pleasures of their dialogue by sounding, somehow, as though they’re saying it for the very first time.

Still, there are moments of excellence, primarily those where Fyffe—whose character’s comparable awkwardness is one of his defining features—can’t stop speaking to fill the silence, and successively talks his way into every corner in the room. Such moments are plentiful in the story, which chiefly centres around his not knowing how to react when his beloved ex from three years and one city ago arrives insisting they ought to be together. Alas, it’s a plot point that giveth and taketh away: for every instance of amusing awkwardness the conceit offers, it forces with it a line or two that’s skates the lake of sexism on very thin ice indeed. The abundant uses of “chicks”, “bang”, and “hoes” in altogether too close proximity without the faintest trace of irony ensures the cracks begin to show.

 Many are the moments where the pick-up lines of a horribly self-confident chauvinist are sniggered at for their absurdity, yet never does the movie seem to recognise in its own characters the same sneering misogyny.

Many are the moments where the pick-up lines of a horribly self-confident chauvinist are sniggered at for their absurdity, yet never does the movie seem to recognise in its own characters the same sneering misogyny. It’s a film perhaps typical of what you might expect from a production company named Team Awesome Films. Set to the tune of his piano-playing, Matt offers Mike some helpful advice on how to play a lady like the instrument. Such are the character’s plentiful playboy antics, which the film—like Mike—not only tolerates but actively encourages with nothing more than a throwaway, indirect comment that he is “kind of a dick”, a meta-excuse that’s every bit as convincing as Seven Psychopaths’.

“If people were offended, it means they felt something,” quips Matt at one point, beautifully summating the disconcerting sense of empty provocation in which this story’s encased. Like the leads themselves, a hapless romantic and a misogynist dick, the movie wavers between affable brooding and contemptible ogling in the most terribly incompatible way. But it’s alright, the film attempts to tell us, Matt’s not quite so bad as someone else, so he can’t be the bad guy, right? Ever before the title card has arrived, Mike is chided for describing his co-written characters with labels like protagonist and antagonist. “It’s not a good guy, bad guy story,” he’s told. A True Story, in the end, is exactly what it set out to never be.

[notification type=”star”] 45/100 ~ BAD. A True Story wavers between affable brooding and contemptible ogling in the most terribly incompatible way. [/notification]
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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.