True Things (United Kingdom, 2022)

September 08, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
True Things Poster

There are moments when True Things, a romantic melodrama about a toxic love affair, almost breaks through. But, in large part because it never coalesces the hazy vagueness surrounding the characters, it doesn't quite get there. The chemistry between the leads, played by Ruth Wilson and Tom Burke (as the only characters with a meaningful screen presence), is flammable. But the movie needs more. Like a romance built on lust, it demands something else to ground it and make it real, and that’s the quality True Things lacks. Over time, director Harry Wootliff’s production becomes frustrating and the ending doesn’t feel earned.

Kate (Wilson) is trapped in a life that consistently fails to meet her expectations. She leads an unfulfilling existence, spending her workdays at a benefits office dealing with often-difficult claimants and her evenings mourning romantic fantasies that were never real. Her best friend, Alison (Hayley Squires), tries to set her up with a nice, marriageable guy but “nice” and “marriageable” might not be what Kate wants. She gets a shock to the system when “Blond” (he never gets a real name) wanders into her workplace and seduces her with his forthright gaze and rough attitude. He’s a classic “bad boy” – an ex-con who reveals next-to-nothing about his past but uses his charisma and direct manner to get what he wants.

t's immediately clear that Kate is more into Blond than he is into her. His goal in the “relationship” is to get off and maybe “borrow” Kate’s car without asking. He expects her to be available when he’s interested, not when it’s mutually convenient. Kate, however, has constructed a fantasy of Blond that bears little resemblance to reality. When his commitment doesn’t meet her expectations, she begins to exhibit stalker-like behavior. In the process, she loses her job, wrecks a chance at a second date with the nice, marriageable guy, and damages (perhaps irreparably) her friendship with Alison.

The story is raw and, due in large part to committed performances by Wilson and Burke, it can be uncomfortable to watch while impossible to turn off. Yet there’s an inevitable familiarity to the proceedings. We’ve seen this movie before and True Things doesn’t offer enough that’s new to make this particular iteration more compelling than previous explorations of the same basic premise.

Wootliff uses unconventional camera selections, soft focus shots, and various other techniques in an attempt to express the emotional chaos in a visceral fashion. He’s going for the opposite of the cool, repressed approach that one sometimes finds in more high-minded explorations of this sort of dynamic. The involvement of an Intimacy Coordinator is welcome and evident: the sex scenes are erotically charged without being unnecessarily graphic or prurient. There’s not a whiff of exploitation (something particularly important to Wilson, who was vocal about how the sex scenes were handled in The Affair).

Wootliff’s decision to focus on being “in the moment” has its downside. Neither character is well developed. Although we get occasional glimpses of Kate’s life (including a few brief scenes with her disapproving mother and apologetic father), they aren’t enough to fill out a semi-complete picture of her. As for Blond, he doesn’t exist outside of his scenes with Kate. The only thing we know about him is that he’s recently released from prison. We don’t know his crime. We know nothing about his family. We don’t even know his name. This works for a while but becomes increasingly problematic as the narrative develops.

One of the least honest aspects of True Things is the ending. The evolution of the characters during this phase of the relationship is too rapid for it to be believable. Had things developed more gradually, it might have been different. There’s a sense that, in trying to avoid a darker path, the filmmakers (and possibly the source novel, which I haven’t read) stray too far into the realm of fantasy – something the first 2/3 of the movie pushes back against. True Things is a solidly made but there’s just not enough substance underlining the characters or their story for it to be memorable.

True Things (United Kingdom, 2022)

Run Time: 1:42
U.S. Release Date: 2022-09-09
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity)
Genre: Drama
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1