Strange but True
Margaret Qualley, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Nick Robinson, Connor Jessup, Brian Cox
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… shoots for the same psychological heights as Gone Girl but ends up hitting 13 Reasons Why levels of melodrama.
Teen-thriller Strange but True spends a hefty amount of time focusing on separated parents – portrayed by Greg Kinnear and Amy Ryan – entertaining the idea that their deceased son Ronnie (Connor Jessup), who had died five years earlier, somehow had his sperm cryogenically preserved and inseminated into his now pregnant girlfriend Melissa (Margaret Qualley of Once Upon in Hollywood fame).
To describe Strange but True as having an absurd premise would be to give the film undeserved credit. An adaptation of John Searles’ 2004 novel of the same name, Strange but True is a film so invested in being received as an introspective on grief that it neglects any sense of mystery or suspense from its peculiar plot.
The film’s attempt at crafting a suspenseful third-act, involving the inane man-hunt of Love, Simon star Nick Robinson, is where this shortcoming is most prevalent. The revelation of the dead-son-sperm-extraction mystery requires no need to watch with bated breath, with Strange but True approaching the same bizarre, and excessively dark depths as The Book of Henry (Colin Trevorrow’s 2017 drama starring Naomi Watts).
There is some enjoyment to be had with the film, with Strange but True’s bonkers premise reaching a no-holds-barred, Bold and the Beautiful meets Passions-esque level of bat-shit crazy antics.
Bad-good in a good-bad way, screenwriter Eric Garcia’s dialogue is cringey to the utmost degree. Highlights include, but are not limited to, Ryan’s grieving mother referring to Kinnear’s ex-husband as a ‘regular bullshit factory’ and Ryan telling Kinnear’s new partner to stick a palm tree up her ‘perfectly bleached asshole’. Ryan lashes out to the point of turning every conversation into an argument, with director Rowan Athale confusing aggression with complexity in what culminates as one of many attempts by Strange but True to create a complicated character.
Athale matches the ridiculousness of the dialogue with over-the-top performances. The fine calibre of actors do all the right things but are let down by a director with a penchant for melodrama. Unnecessary subplots, including resentment towards former library co-workers, meetings with a psychic that accepts Visa or Mastercard, and the redundant mystery behind Nick Robinson’s character’s broken leg, reduce the film’s serious vibe.
Efforts to be perceived as noir feel more akin to Twilight, with the monochromatic cinematography, grey skies and opening scene – replace the young man running with a deer and you have a dead-ringer – resembling Stephenie Meyer more than David Fincher.
A teen thriller stripped entirely of complexity and sense, Strange but True manages to deliver an entertaining and harmless flick that shoots for the same psychological heights as Gone Girl but ends up hitting 13 Reasons Why levels of melodrama.