True Stories (1986) Movie Review

 True Stories takes place in the town of Virgil, Texas. A man, played by David Byrne, explores the growing town as Texas nears its 150th anniversary. He meets the various townspeople and we get to see into their lives and stories.  Characters like Louis Fyne (John Goodman), a singer who is unlucky with love, and Miss Rollings (Swoosie Kurtz), a woman who is so rich that she chooses to never leave her bed. David Byrne, the lead singer/songwriter of the Talking Heads, was the writer/director/star of True Stories. The film has been described by him as “60 Minutes on acid.” The Talking Heads even did all the music for the film.

True Stories
If you were thinking this involved James Franco I’m sorry to disappoint.

One of the interesting things about this movie is seeing what happened to those involved. David Byrne won an Oscar only a year and a half after True Stories for co-writing the score to The Last Emperor. John Goodman has gone on to become a pretty big star. True Stories walks the boundaries of a band film like A Hard Day’s Night, a mockumentary like Best in Show, and an avant garde piece like Manhatta. The film tries and succeeds at being something new and original.

A Toast

One of the first things that stand out about this film is the cinematography. This wasn’t an early work by Ed Lachman, since his first credit is ten years prior to True Stories. But it wasn’t till after this movie that his more notable works came in like Erin Brockovich and his recent Oscar nominated work for Carol. The shots are all greatly framed with some very nice landscape shots to capture the old agricultural nature of the town. It is a shame that David Byrne did not go on to direct more films (he only has two other feature film directing credits to date) because as a directorial debut this is an excellent job. I would have loved to have seen more films from him from around this time where he experiments with film to tell the story he wants. But since True Stories was such a passion project of Byrne’s this is probably a lightning in a bottle situation.

One of the best things about this movie is its experimentation with storytelling in film. The film transitions between documentary style and narrative storytelling with snapshots into character’s lives. This works well with what the movie is attempting to do. It is telling a fictional story (or stories) but at the same time trying to capture real life. We get a look at a town that used to be small but it’s on the verge of booming because of the growing tech market. The film explores the idea of old ways clashing with new ways, and how the current generation writes over the history of the past. The film plays with your concept of reality. The title True Stories leads the audience to believe that real stories will be told in the movie. The stories and scenes presented can sometimes seem outlandish but are grounded enough that you will think it is something that could possibly happen. Some of the characters, like a woman who believes she has psychic powers because she was born with a tail, are relatable because they are made to have quirks and flaws like people we may know. It helps to keep the illusion of truth in this fictional movie.

Verdict

True Stories is a hidden gem from the 1980s that is worth checking out. At the very least it serves as an interesting look at John Goodman early on in his career. True Stories is a unique band film that is unlike any other from the genre we have seen before or since. While not explicitly starring in the film, this is very much a Talking Heads movie like A Hard Day’s Night or Help! are Beatles movies. This films pacing stays constant so there never feels like a slow moment even during longer sequences and scenes. True Stories is a movie worth recommending for everyone to check out.

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True Stories Movie Drinking Game

Take a Drink: when David Byrne breaks the fourth wall.

Take a Shot: if you recognize one of the songs

Take a Drink: anytime townspeople start singing.

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