In Hal Hartley's first feature film, The Unbelievable Truth, Audrey (Adrienne Shelley) breaks off her relationship with an utterable dork & shortly thereafter falls in love with Josh (Robert John Burke) who has just finished his time in prison for manslaughter. During his absense, an absurd folklore has grown around his name positing that he may even have been a serial killer, not that Audrey is put off by the possibility.
Adrienne Shelley turns in a wonderful & complex performance. For a while she is so beside-heself-in-love that she forgets to obsess about her belief in an impending nuclear disaster. But at unexpected moments she cocks her head, certain she hears the airplanes coming with the bombs. She's a delightfully crazed & beautiful eccentric, & quite believable that she'd fall in love at first sight with a fellow others believe could be a mass murderer.
Unfortunately no one else's performance quite measures up to hers. Most of the cast is a mite flat as though everyone's on thorozine. Robert John Burke is a handsome physical presence, but he is given such awful dialog & lacks the skill to sell bad lines successfully. He's only convincing when he's not talking.
Nor does the cinematography ever overcome its lack of budget with anything visually competent. And the script, skirting along an edge flanked by satiric-surrealism & cinema verite, is frequently merely moronic.
Occasionally it has an experimental-dialog flourish that passes momentarily for dark humor. But the script is uneven with more low points than high. Every time the story seems almost to have settled into something bearable, there'll be a scene so bad it should've been tossed on the cutting room floor. For example, the distraught father's wild speech about how it's a good thing his daughter is doing nude modeling was badly written, did not seem likely to have occurred, & was horridly acted.
I've never shared the opinion held by a few that Hartley is something of an Indy genius. But even allowing that some of his later films are at least competent, The Unbelievable Truth is not.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl