Saturday, March 2, 2024

Movie Review (TIFF 2021): ‘True Things’ hurts, even though it doesn’t offer anything new

Director: Harry Wootliff.
Writers: Harry Wootliff, Molly Davies.
Stars: Ruth Wilson, Tom Burke, Hayley Squires.

Synopsis: A woman’s dreary life is forever changed after a risky sexual encounter.

It would seem that it is a ritual of passage to go through unfortunate romantic relationships, a topic that is well-known and vastly explored in cinema. Harry Wootliff, co-writer, and director of True Things, knows this too well, offering a film that is instantly recognizable, in the good and bad things regarding toxic relationships. Even though the film doesn’t really offer anything new, it is a hurtful reminder of the rush, expectation, and ambiguity of bad relationships.

When we meet Kate (Ruth Wilson) she is kind of a mess. Her sense of humor, dry and sarcastic, alienates her from her colleagues and family, and she has been severely reprimanded for arriving late at work (something that is common) at a benefits office in a seaside town in England. As we see her on her routine, it is clear that she is miserable, waiting for something exciting that takes her out of her reverie. The answer seems to be Blond (we never really learn his name), one claimant that appears in the middle of Kate’s day. Blonde, over-confident and pathetic in his shadiness, he instantly sweeps her off her feet.

The attraction seems to be mutual (of course). Kate and Blond (Tom Burke) rapidly get immersed in an affair defined by its uncertainty and confusion. He is dominant and she is awkwardly trying to fit into his expectations. He brings her down with casual criticisms, cynical reactions to her signs of affection, and long absences.

More than being interested in understanding the relationship, Wootliff accompanies Kate as she gets excited, unravels, and puts herself back together again, only to be brought back down by Blond’s casual misogyny and loving manipulation. The film solely focuses on Kate and her drastic changes, making Blond a total enigma.

Eager, excited or heartbroken, Kate’s despair and obsessive need for Blond are painfully recognizable. She is eager to throw herself into a relationship with this man, even if she knows that he is unreliable and mean. Her fear to threaten the delicate rapport that she has established with Blond is tangible, as well as her despair to be with him all the time. Brought to life by a realistic Wilson, her physical performance is as vital as the words that come out of her mouth. The actress is fearless at showing so much vulnerability and humiliation.

Tom Burke appears as attractive and mysterious as we’ve ever seen him – with an eerie similarity to his role in The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, 2019) –, but with an emotional distance that makes him more present, and problematic. Is Blond playing with her or does he really love her? These questions are always present but never answered, allowing the audience to create their own conclusions. Burke creates a man that is evidently a jerk, but that earns the benefit of the doubt because his real life is truly a mystery.

Filmed with a romantic and picturesque style, in True Things everything looks like a postcard. Wootliff is intimate in her images as well as her story: the camera is always too close to the characters, focusing on their eyes, mouths, and hands, especially hers. Sometimes it feels as if there’s no space between the camera and Kate.

Coming off from her sweet and good-natured Only You (2018), Wootliff keeps proving that she is skilled at showing intimacy and connection. While her 2018 film presents a relationship based on vulnerability and willingness to make things work, in True Things she presents the complete opposite: the rush of having feelings for someone, but the uncertainty of being reciprocated. In both films, the chemistry formed between the leads is intoxicating and vital. Even if True Things hits familiar notes, Burke and Wilson’s bond propels the story to go, aided by Wottliff’s unstructured and free depiction of her subjects.

True Things is an accurate representation of a toxic relationship that is doomed to fail from the start. The film effectively portrays the turmoil and bliss of getting involved in an unexpected and yet exciting affair that shakes you and presents previously unthinkable possibilities. With an unforgettable music number that works as an inspired cathartic event for Kate, Wootliff invites us to reflect about the life-altering, but shallow loves that we have experienced.

Grade: B-

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