The Unbelievable Truth (1989) Poster

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Original movie that started a whole genre of Indy films
Joel_Goodsen15 June 2005
Clever Indy film-making at it's best!!! This film jump started a genre. Hal Hartley's masterpiece brims with clever dialogue and funny performances. Adrianne Shelley is a standout as Audrey who is convinced that the world is soon to blow up. Chris Cooke should be getting a lot more work after his winning performance as Vic Hugo. He's a delight to watch as his daughter Audrey bargains with him on about going to college. And Robert Burke is great as the quiet Josh, the returning man with a past. You catch something new every time with this film ... like the funny way everyone fights in the movie (elaborate pushing matches). An original film and thoroughly enjoyable. Great soundtrack too ... under Hal Hartley's alias of Ned Rifle. Highly recommended ... and definitely more than worth than 50¢ at your video rental and won't put you to sleep if you like original, clever, landmark Indy films like this one is.
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Hal Hartley's best movie
Nocular30 January 1999
One of my (maybe even "the") all time favorite movies.

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.
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The truth is , this is an unbelievably intriguing film...bravo!
inkblot114 December 2006
Audry (Adrienne Shelly) is a brainy and beautiful girl living in Long Island. She has just been accepted to Harvard, no less, but has to bargain with her father about attending the famous school. She is just turning 18 and wants to major in literature. Father insists on her getting a part time job and choosing to study communications. At this moment on LI, also, a convicted man has just returned to his home turf. His name is Josh and no one is sure what he did, but it seems that he killed two or more people. Audry has a chance meeting with him and is smitten. She even gets him a job at her father's automobile shop. How in the world is this a match made in heaven? No description is really adequate to relate the events in this film. Rather than plot driven, it is a quirky, intelligent film where conversation and the unexpected reign mightily. The script is just stunning. Where else, I might suggest, can you view a film that offers explanations on the merits of Moliere's Misanthrope and the workings of a car's transmission apparatus? All of the actors, the costumes, the look, and the direction of the film are very, very worthy, too. (Sadly, Ms. Shelly was murdered in 2006 in NYC). There is a smattering of bad language and the subject matter is adult, so the movie is not suitable for an underage audience. Nevertheless, if you definitely want to take a walk down the aisle of vintage, independent films, pick this one up without delay. It is a gem, even years after its creation.
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Are you a priest or something?
daver-430 January 1999
This is a great movie! When I went to see it in 1990, I had no idea what it was about. I had a pass for a free screening. What luck that was--I have not been the same since. I love deadpan comedies, and this one is the best I've seen--it paved the way for Welcome to the Dollhouse and Bottle Rocket in 1996, and director Hal Hartley has become a well-known figure in the art house scene (too bad he has never been able to duplicate the success of his first movie). Robert John Burke plays the ex con mechanic, mistaken as a man of the cloth by several characters. Adrienne Shelley (where is she now?) plays the depressed teenager who falls in love with him, despite his mysterious past (did he really kill her best friend's sister?) Shelley appeared in Hartley's second film, Trust, and then made a low budget teen comedy (can't think of the title). Burke went on to replace Peter Weller as RoboCop and star in "Thinner." What a waste of two great talents! This movie has it all--romance, comedy, a quirky soundtrack, George Washington obsession, fun with crescent wrenches, and just a bit of drama. "Listen......bombs." See it!
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A warm little tale ...
charishankar3 September 2011
Mind you, it's a wafer thin storyline. A heart-warming little story of an ex-convict returning to a city, and the infatuation of the local Lolita has for him, it touches you, ever so softly, from behind the facade of the boisterous small town existence and the foibles of the small group of townspeople who form the nucleus of the story. At the end of it, you're glad you sat down to watch it - it's a laid-back mind-soother, which leaves you with a warm feeling all over.

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.
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A cute and quirky, offbeat romantic comedy
DeeNine-24 February 2002
What we have here is an indie romantic comedy, adorably done. Adrienne Shelly, who is petite and cute and pale as winter snow, stars as Audrey Hugo, a mechanic's daughter who has been accepted at Harvard (or so she says) but has no intention of going. She is obsessed with what she sees as the inevitability of nuclear war and attendant horrors, which she reads about aloud to herself and anyone who will listen.

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!)
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Unbelievable dialogue makes for refreshing fun
Arcana1310 May 2001
Not Hartley's best, though I still rate it a ten. Hartley began his odd spin on movie dialogue with this (not quite) debut film. Adrienne Shelley is beautiful and perfectly cast--it's very difficult to tell if she is a brilliant actress or merely brilliantly directed. Martin Donovan (for him it's not difficult to tell--he's brilliant) is understated, yes, everyone says that, and mysterious. The B Movie backup cast leaves something to be desired, but somehow that helps propel this odd little gem. Only David Mamet has the same level of idiosyncratic brilliance in scripting dialogue which, while not particularly true to life, is refreshingly new and always entertaining. Hartley revels in repetition and the use of the pause. People don't talk like this, but then again, they do, just not in films. 'Henry Fool' and 'Book of Life' are his best, but this early work is indispensable.
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Early Hartley Worth the Effort
gpadillo5 January 2004
Fraught with over obvious symbolism, Hartley's early feature is nonetheless a joy to watch. Hal here shows us his uncanny ability to cast his characters perfectly came early in his career.

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.
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Interesting first attempt by Hartley
kintopf4324 December 2003
First feature by eccentric writer/director Hal Hartley turns out to be one of his most accessible films. Unfortunately, it's also a little boring. The problem here is the same as that of Peter Greenaway's `The Pillow Book,' or any film that departs from its auteur's trademark style; that is, it isn't weird enough for the director's devotees, but it's too weird for anybody else. Of course, as a first film, `The Unbelievable Truth' isn't a departure, it's an experiment, and so fans of Hartley's later work aren't likely to feel as alienated as they would if he had made it after establishing himself with absurdist little indie comedies like `Trust,' `Surviving Desire,' and `Simple Men.' Hartley's signature quirks--non-sequiter-laden dialogue, slapstick, existentialist rhetoric, and deliberately flat performances--are all there, but in muted, almost embryonic form. This was the only Hartley feature I hadn't seen, and it's hard to imagine what it would have been like to see it without knowing his other films--from the other comments posted here, it appears impressions vary. Myself, I found it a bit slow, and I kept wishing he would crank the artifice up to the level of his later films, or at least his later early films. Still, while I don't feel it's his strongest work, it's always interesting, and the performances by Hartley icons Adrienne Shelley and Robert John Burke (how young he looks!) give the film an emotional honesty that more than pays off. 7 out of 10.
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Hartley's style isn't for the casual viewer
abchulett22 April 2006
Long Island auteur Hal Hartley writes, directs, and co-produces his first feature film. His second, "Trust," has more polish and a better reputation, but "The Unbelievable Truth" has plenty to recommend it. Hartley came onto the scene as kind of a Generation X independent film voice, and while the acting quality in this feature debut is more uneven than in subsequent efforts, his almost surreal approach to dialogue, situations, and characterization is intact right out of the gate.

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.
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Planetary Gears
tedg1 November 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

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.
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The Unbelievable Truth
jboothmillard8 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I didn't know anything about this film before finding it listed in the book of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, it was rated rather average by critics, but I was hoping it would deserve the book placing, from director Hal Hartley (Trust). Basically Josh Hutton (Robert Burke) has been released from prison, having served time for murder, and he returns to his home town in Long Island, where no-one is sure about the details of his crime, whether the rumours are exaggerated, but they are certainly wary of him. Audry Hugo (Waitress actress and director Adrienne Shelly) lives in the town and already has a boyfriend in high school, but she soon meets Josh, dumps her boyfriend, and starts seeing him as her new mystery man, ignoring the tale tales of his manslaughter, he also finds himself a job as a mechanic working for Audry's father Vic (Chris Cooke). The relationship between them is anything but normal, not just because of Josh's crime being the talk of the town, but because Audry is a successful and sought after fashion model, and also she has high paranoia about big issues, such as the nuclear war and a forthcoming apocalypse, and in the end it is her modelling and travelling to New York that will ultimately break them up. Also starring Julia McNeal as Pearl, Katherine Mayfield as Liz Hugo, Gary Sauer as Emmet, Mark Bailey as Mike, David Healy as Todd Whitbread, Matt Malloy as Otis and Edie Falco as Jane - The Waitress. Burke is pretty good being mysterious, Shelly is interesting as the dissatisfied and odd girl, and together their on screen relationship plays out oddly but is part of what keeps you watching, I didn't find myself laughing all that much, I think it was the eccentric characters and peculiar conversations that kept me going until the end, an alright comedy drama. Worth watching!
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charming indie classic
framptonhollis20 February 2017
"The Unbelievable Truth" is a funny and often beautiful film that seeks to find the sweet and humorous within the darkest of subject matter. At times it is darkly comic and borderline cynical, while at others it is extraordinarily romantic and melodramatic. These two tones do not clash and conflict like one would expect, instead they both morph into one another- showcasing the ups and downs of life. During a very dramatic scene, writer-director Hal Hartley will sneak in a hilarious moment or line and masterfully weave it into the moment in such a way that it feels natural rather than rough.

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.
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Putting human behavior in perspective.
inioi24 January 2016
Usually, some films tends to create drama, and through the script and the music is enhanced and magnified. In this movie, is exactly the opposite: a story that could have been a far-fetched drama, becomes as if by magic, in something light, and stripped of the the tragic and calamitous burden.

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
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Perfect movie for the college crowd
susansweb20 December 2001
I first saw this movie when I was 22 and I thought it was fantastic. I have seen it several times since then and each time I enjoy it but I don't have the enthusiasm that I once had. That might be, because every Hal Hartley movie I have seen since (three others) is exactly the same in dialogue, acting and direction. But enough on the negative. The positive - the cast: Robert Burke, Adrienne Shelley and the rest do a great job. I really enjoyed the dialogue, there doesn't seem to be a wasted word and all of the push fighting. How come Seagal doesn't try that? So, in summary, this is the best Hartley film so far.
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Pretty Movie.
SameirAli28 February 2017
The movie begins when Josh is walking on the road, waiting for a lift. He was offered lift by some people, but kicked out when the learn that Josh is coming from a prison. Josh killed his girl friend in drink and drive. Later he visits her father and he was killed during their fight.

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.

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welcome to the unique world of Hal Hartley
mjneu5912 January 2011
"The world's not going to end when so many people are making so much money!" says a single-minded, suburban blue-collar father to his nihilistic, fashion-model daughter, who would rather contemplate Armageddon than pursue a higher education. The emotional toll of such misplaced priorities is stylishly satirized in director Hal Hartley's debut feature, a small town mock-Gothic parody of skewed personal relationships in the money-hungry 1980s. The setting is ostensibly somewhere on Long Island, but from Hartley's perspective it all takes place in a slightly off-kilter universe, tracing the ripple effect caused by the return home of a handsome, taciturn ex-convict (and mass murderer?) who admits to no ambitions other than the Tao of auto mechanics, the discipline of celibacy, and a profound interest in the life of George Washington. It all adds up to nothing more than a deadpan shaggy dog joke, never going anywhere in particular but finally arriving at just the right destination, with help from some crisscrossing, crazy-yet-formal dialogue reminiscent at times of a Preston Sturges script adapted by Jim Jarmusch.
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What's the buzz?
Reid-1421 December 2000
I surely don't understand the hype which surrounds this movie. Yes, it has a certain indie edginess to it, but the script is mostly annoying and the acting is dreadful. This film is, indeed, unbelievable, but not even remotely connected to any truth I know of.
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The only question is: Is it bad enough to be good?
escoles30 December 2003
This was one of the most deeply awful movies I can recall ever seeing. It mixed high-dramaturgy with low production values and a sense of deep self-seriousness that makes it difficult for me to understand why people found it amusing. Poor acting, bad dialog, awkward blocking...where do I stop?

And yet, I suppose that a few beers and some good friends could transform it into a bonding experience....
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bill_b428 July 1999
Only rent this movie if it is available in the 50 cent section of your local video store and if you need help getting to sleep. It packs all the experience of a high school play in a painful 90 minutes. The plot was unbelievable (like the title - I should've got the hint), and the acting was atrocious! It claims to be a comedy yet the only laughter you may utter will be at the thought you wasted your time and money looking at this movie. Shouldn't morality plays pretending to better the human condition have some basis is true human character? You will not see any basis for reality in this movie. The unbelievable truth is that there are folks out there who like this movie!
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execution not quite there
SnoopyStyle17 November 2015
Josh Hutton (Robert John Burke) leaves prison and returns into town. Pearl is shocked by his return. Audry Hugo (Adrienne Shelly) is a depressed cynical teen. She is accepted into Harvard but doesn't see the point of going. Her boyfriend is callous to her concerns. She suggests a mechanics job at her dad's garage to Hutton. Everybody starts to speculate what he actually did.

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.
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=G=7 August 2003
I can think of no construct of criteria by which one could measure "The Unbelievable Truth" and arrive at the conclusion that it is anything more than an utter waste of time. The believable truth about this flick is it is pure amateurish tripe. The unbelievable truth is that some people have found a basis for recommendation. (D-)
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Unbelievably awful
joesab8 November 2009
So bad it moved me to write my first IMDb review.

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.
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Re: The only question is: Is it bad enough to be good?
MattPage24 May 2004
Dude, thats the point.

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
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