Some movies are about battling robots, caped crusaders, web-slinging teenagers, teenagers fornicating with pastry, exploding heads, exploding asteroids, and all sorts of things that go boom. And then there are movies that come out, or rather sneak out, very, very, quietly, that are actually about humans engaging in a rare cinematic phenomenon called conversation. This is commonly known as talking.
Yeah, yeah, people talk in movies all the time – even in last year’s silent Best Picture winner The Artist. Most dialogue in movies exists only to do what screenwriters call moving the story forward (think the Transformers series) Sometimes the dialogue can reveal character (think James L. Brooks films) or just illuminate characters who aren’t really who you think they are (call it the “Tarantino Effect.”)
Every once in a blue moon, however, a movie will feature dialogue that does all three of these things. This year, that movie is Jim Hemphill’s bittersweet comedy-drama The Trouble With The Truth.
This fine, fine, film which apparently came out of the Shoestring Budget School of Filmmaking has limited locations (four, I believe) limited characters (two main ones, three or four “under fives”) and a very simple plotline: two divorcees get together for a meal so that they can discuss/argue/debate their daughter’s just-announced nuptials.
This couple is played by the luminous Lea Thompson from ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth” series and, of course, Back to the Future II and III, and John Shea, the terrific and ubiquitous actor who played Lex Luthor in “The Adventures of Lois & Clark” and is a dead ringer for Warren Beatty if there ever was one.
For a couple of actors who have cut their teeth on small screen entertainment, they know plenty about giving big screen performances. Shea’s Robert is a hotel jazz-piano playing Lothario while Thompson’s Emily is a successful novelist making a brief stop into Robert’s rather sad little haven during a book signing tour. The film begins with the two exes having drinks, which soon becomes dinner, leading to a very telling dessert scene which eventually leads to…well, you have to just experience it for yourself.
Like the film which it will inevitably be compared to, Louis Malle’s My Dinner With Andre, the dialogue is the true star of the film because the words are mere vessels for the subtext hidden within. There are moments in TTWTT where one wants to scream at the screen “Just kiss each other already!” As the sly title suggests, however, that is far easier said than done.
Not that the actors are ever upstaged by their dialogue, though. This is no typical indie dramedy where the actors talk like, well, actors and where you can practically hear the screenwriter giggling at his or her own cleverness.
Quite the contrary, writer-director Jim Hemphill gives his actors many, many, notes to play yet isn’t above making pop culture references to things that can only be from his own frame of reference (Warren Zevon, Dan Simmons novels, etc.)
Both actors play these notes beautifully, particularly Thompson, who imbues Emily with such pathos, humor, and the occasional glimmer of the temptress hidden within (again, see aforementioned dessert scene.)
The final moment of the film is the kind that will leave moviegoers continuing the conversation out into the parking lot, and who knows, maybe even on the way to drinks and dinner. When was the last time you saw a movie that had that kind of lasting effect?
The Trouble With The Truth is playing at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theater and Aero Theater in Los Angeles and The Quad Theater in New York beginning September 14th.
Tickets for the Cinematheque available here. Tickets for The Quad can be found here.
Ward Porrill is also the George Lucas Examiner.