The Movie Waffler New to Prime Video - STRANGE BUT TRUE | The Movie Waffler

New to Prime Video - STRANGE BUT TRUE

strange but true review
A grieving family is disrupted by the arrival of a young woman who claims to be carrying their dead son's child.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Rowan Athale

Starring: Amy Ryan, Nick Robinson, Margaret Qualley, Blythe Danner, Brian Cox, Greg Kinnear

strange but true poster

Strange But True opens with a tentative voiceover; a young female existentialising about our place within the grand scheme of things in the most childlike way imaginable. Is there a God, etc, and if so then why do bad things happen, blah blah. Heavy, man. "If we knew the whole truth," she goes on to wonder, "would we be less afraid… or more?" Yikes! But before the full Lovecraftian horror of this query can be explored, we crash cut to a lad scampering through the woods in the harried manner of a final girl before hiding behind a big tree. And then a branch snaps off camera: who, or what, is after him? Perhaps it is Shub-Niggurath herself! We’ll have to wait to find out though, because the film then flashes back to a few days previously, deep into the sordid little grief hole that is Strange But True’s world.

strange but true review

Our boy running through the woods is Philip (played by that surly young boy from Jurassic World, Nick Robinson, making a seamless transition to surly older boy here), and it transpires that he, and his family of mum (Amy Ryan) and estranged dad (Greg Kinnear), are mourning the untimely death of elder son Ronnie. Philip has a bust leg (hence the scampering of earlier/later) and the circumstances surrounding the accident are conspicuously brushed over, as is the precise nature of Ronnie’s passing: these are known as ‘narrative enigmas’, and they are designed to ‘hook’ an audience’s ‘interest’. These curiosities swiftly become auxiliary, however, with the film’s first act reveal that Ronnie’s girlfriend Melissa (Margaret Qualley, fresh from her star making turn in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, and who is just as beautiful and dynamic here: the film’s MVP) is pregnant. Problem is, she has not had sexual intercourse with anyone but Ronnie before he died, and that happened ages ago. Uh oh!

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Within the small c conservative community of Strange But True, eyebrows are raised. In the first instance, there is enough residual God-fearin’ for the concept of miracle conception to be reasonably entertained. Although, old Kinnear is a doctor, and even though he’s fucked off to New York with a hotter younger wife, could he have something to do with it? Furthermore, Melissa has been taken in by a kindly old couple comprising of Brian Cox and Blythe Danner. Surely, they couldn’t somehow be involved, could they? It takes the entire film to find out what’s what…

strange but true review

In the meantime, Strange But True offers a curiously dry-eyed portrait of grief and adjustment. As a man at the mercy of his emotions (a couple of weeks ago I started crying at a sad bit in a Spider-Man comic at the train station and had to walk to the end of the platform because people were looking), even I remained completely unmoved by the narrative. How? You have all the buttons: a beautiful, loving young man cut down in the prime of his youth (on prom night, no less), his mother undergoing what no parent should, and his little brother who idolised him barely coping. These shiny red buttons remain un-pressed, however. Perhaps the emotional remove is due to the pointlessly contrived mysteries which are prioritised by the plot. It is pretty obvious that Philip done his leg on a grief bender, and that Ronnie’s death involved some sort of misadventure. Thing is, I can’t see people being interested in how the kid died as the film expects us to be: the fact is he’s dead, and how it happened is, at this point, irrelevant, both to the family and the viewer.

strange but true review

Or maybe it’s because Kinnear has to intone lines like "Melissa froze Ronnie’s sperm?!" which, heartless as it may seem, due to Kinnear’s wide-eyed delivery is rendered utterly hilarious. Thinking about it, Kinnear is an apt fit for Strange But True: a safe pair of hands, who always delivers a quality performance, but one which is never really startling or surprising. What is frustrating (slight spoilers) is that the ending, when it all comes out (the secrets and Melissa’s amniotic fluids) is proper good (and, finally, had me weeping like the baby onscreen). But it’s a long wait for that catharsis. You’ll notice that the horror-esque opening, the Lovecraftian terror, has naff all to do with the film at large. The prologue is an incongruity typical of this oddly imbalanced film, from the title onwards. Strange But True is, in fact, not a true story. It’s not even all that strange, really. What it is, in fact, is rather average and difficult to credit.

Strange But True is on Prime Video UK now.