The Unbelievable Truth (1989)
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A film about some average people, basically. Maybe a bit weird, some of those people, but that's how people are, if you look closely. What makes it so rewatchable for me are the wonderful dialogues and the wonderful characters. They feel so true.
IMHO, the very tight budget and schedule helped this movie become so good. It is so... concise. Hardly a word or scene wasted.
If you like movies by Jim Jarmusch or Richard Linklater, you might like this one, too.
What elevates the film by several rungs is, however, the superb performance of Robert Burke as the mercurial, unpredictable and enigmatic Joshua Hutton, who leaves you ambivalent about his real intentions till the very end, when all is revealed. Supporting him, ably, is the petite Adrienne Shelly, who may not be strictly pretty, but has an elfin charm - not really a little girl any more, but not yet a woman. They complement each other perfectly, and it is this chemistry that makes the film glow, and forms the perfect foil to the humdrum backdrop of everything else that is going on.
It's rewarding, and relaxing, viewing - a perfect de-stresser, if there ever was one. If you can get hold of a copy, hold on, tight.
It is 1988 and this is Long Island, New York, although it looks a lot like Jersey to me. Certainly this is not the high rent district of Long Island. Her boyfriend is shallow and doesn't listen to her. Her father thinks she ought to go to the local community college which he notes is a whole lot cheaper than Harvard. She is bored with her senior year at high school and usually cuts.
Enter tall, handsome, dressed all in black Robert Burke as Josh Hutton just released from prison. People who meet him ask, "Are you a priest?" He answers, "I'm a mechanic." And indeed he is an especially wondrous one who, of course, goes to work for Audrey's father, Vic Hugo (Chris Cooke) and becomes invaluable. Although it seems that Josh killed a girl and then the girl's father some years ago, we of course know from the title and from Josh's obviously sterling character that the "unbelievable truth" must be otherwise. And of course so does Audrey who is immediately smitten with him. But Josh is apparently practicing something like celibacy ("Are you a priest?") and rebuffs Audrey's advances, thereby initiating a whole slew of romantic misunderstandings wittily tossed about by director Hal Hartley along with some spiffy Mamet-like dialogue.
Now enter a photographer who makes Audrey into a fashion model, first her feet, but eventually the entire petite torso. Physically she moves to New York City, but her heart is still with Josh at her dad's auto repair shop. She even carries Josh's wrench in her handbag, with which she threatens the photo guy when he tries to get too close.
What makes this film a delight in spite of all the obvious elements and the predictable complications is the original, independent and sparkling character of Audrey, the true blue integrity of Josh, some clever and funny dialogue, and a kind of warm puppy feel usually the signature property of a Nora Ephron film starring Meg Ryan.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
Adrienne Shelley is a near perfect foil to herself, equal parts annoying teen burgeoning in her sexuality (though using sex for several years); obsessed with doom and inspired by idealism gone wrong she is deceptively and simultaneously complex and simple. Her Audrey inspires so many levels of symbolism it is almost embarrassingly rich (e.g., her modeling career beginning with photos of her foot culminating her doing nude (but unseen) work; Manhattan move; Europe trip; her stealing, then sleeping with the mechanics wrench, etc.)
As Josh, Robert Burke gives an absolutely masterful performance. A reformed prisoner/penitent he returns to his home town to face down past demons, accept his lot and begin a new life. Dressed in black, and repeatedly mistaken for a priest, he corrects everyone ("I'm a mechanic"), yet the symbolism is rich: he abstains from alcohol, he practices celibacy (is, in fact a virgin), and seemingly has taken on vows of poverty, and humility as well. The humility seems hardest to swallow seeming, at times, almost false, a pretense. Yet, as we learn more of Josh we see genuineness in his modesty, that his humility is indeed earnest and believable. What seems ironic is the character is fairly forthright in his simplicity, yet so richly drawn it becomes the viewer who wants to make him out as more than what he actually is. A fascinatingly written character, perfectly played.
The scene between Josh and Jane (a wonderful, young Edie Falco . . . "You need a woman not a girl") is hilarious . . . real. But Hartley can't leave it as such and his trick, having the actors repeat the dialogue over-and-over becomes frustratingly "arty" and annoying . . . until again it becomes hilarious. What a terrific sense of bizarre reality this lends the film (like kids in a perpetual "am not"/"are too" argument).
Hartley's weaves all of a small neighborhood's idiosyncrasies into a tapestry of seeming stereotypes but which delves far beneath the surface, the catalyst being that everyone believes they know what the "unbelievable truth" of the title is, yet no two people can agree (including our hero) on what exactly that truth is. A wonderful little movie with some big ideas.
The story is of a man who comes back to his hometown after years in prison, and the young girl he meets once he gets there. As in "Trust," Hartley uses coincidences to underline the intersecting lives and fates of his characters, and his characterization emphasizes the random way in which so many of us foolishly let our hearts lead us around rather than our heads...although ultimately the day belongs to those who are able to conquer this tendency.
While Hartley forcefully instructs his actors to play their lines totally deadpan as much as possible, the situations and character reactions lead to lots of uproarious laughs that will not be evident to many viewers if they're expecting sitcom-type humor, and the way his plots twist is a joy. For the sophisticated movie fan, Hartley's films are extremely interesting and a terrific exercise in watching a true original at work.
I stumbled upon `No Such Thing' and was dumbfounded at its abstract richnesses. So I sought out other Hal Hartley projects. This one has the highest IMDB rating, whatever that means.
Rottentomatoes gives `Thing' a 100 and this a 31! I suppose that is because the distance from the story is not so obvious -- it just looks like bad acting and the story might seem to make sense if you are not paying attention.
We have Audry, a perfect vision, interested in doom, reading and being photographed, newly sexual. We have the hapless man in black: not a preacher but a mechanic who has paid for an unadjusted memory. Everybody else is props, including the driver/bum/'entertainer' and the photographer
They engage in a dance of representation. This is an early work to be sure, with none of the ineluctably sophisticated layering of `Thing,' but you can still see an American Godard, a young Jarmusch in what is really his first open film.
Adrienne Shelly is not required to act here, that's the point -- she is a `model.' But she is quite lovely as she comes through the camera.
I recommend this to students of film narrative as an introduction to folding over nothing with an ironic neofabulism. Paved the way for later Lynch. Added to our ability to handle vision abstraction.
Ted's evaluation: 3 of 4 -- Worth watching.
For a film shot on such a low budget, it is highly impressive in almost every conceivable manner. However, it naturally is littered with flaws that distracted me from the movie watching experience. The sound design can be awful at times because of the sometimes constant cutting in and out of audio-reminiscent of the infamous "Birdemic" (although it isn't nearly as bad or as noticeable). Also, while some of the performances are pretty great and, at times, hilarious, some of them are overly wooden and annoying. It also feels as if its trying a little too hard to be quirky and different at times, plus its got some pacing issues and felt a lot longer than 90 minutes to me, which is only a minor complaint in this case because what was going on during those 90 minutes was fascinating.
Since this movie is so beautiful and tender in its humor and romance, I recommend it for most audiences who can handle a slightly slower and more "artsy" little movie.
In some characters can be seen a decrease of identification with their own feelings, which is transformed into understanding, acceptance, forgiveness. This attitude is so rare in real life, that the movie takes on a surreal tinge.
In the end, as in some other (few) movies, there is no good and bad .... just humans.
A beautiful and unusual view of human relationships, in which everything could be simpler.
7.5 / 10
Audry is a confused teenager. Just waiting for the end of the world. Josh gets his job as a mechanic in Audry's father's garage.
Hal Hartley is always good in presenting his simple but beautiful films. A great director. This movie was filmed in just 11 days.
A must watch. highly recommended.
And yet, I suppose that a few beers and some good friends could transform it into a bonding experience....
Hal Hartley has written some mannered and artificial dead pan humor. I actually like that but it has to be delivered expertly. The delivery is lacking from most of these actors and the directing is not quite there. I can see good potential for something great. Adrienne is not really young enough for the teen role. Her character could have been written as a twenty something. Overall, this is an interesting indie that could have been more compelling.
There are plenty of talented amateur film makers, actors and directors out there, none of them were involved in this film. To say that the horribly stiff acting and poor writing and screen play is a "edgy style" that you don't get unless your hip is just a lazy cop-out. Hal Hartley is not a film maker, he's a dude with a camera and some friends wasting time. There have been much better high school plays. There really was no reason to make or see this movie, none.
In the future I'll be more careful when choosing movies to watch based on IMDb ratings, especially those with less than a few thousand votes (just about all of Hal Hartley's movies). I should have read all of the reviews, not just the ones written by the cast and their friends.
Hartley throws every movie cliché in the book at this one and tips his hat to numerous other films in the process. I've only seen one other of his films (Book of Life) but you can see how he went down the formalism / "exploring the limits of the medium" route in more sophisticated ways.
My favourite bit was when he's telling the sad story and his friend is playing all the usual cheesy soundtrack notes as he goes along. Very funny
Get a load of friends round and have a good laugh. Matt Page