Dealing with a significant loss, you actively seek any shred of comfort, sometimes no matter how outlandish it may seem to those around you. Based on the novel by John Searles, leading us through this particular premise laced with grief is Nick Robinson, who suddenly became the poster boy for mainstream LGBTQ cinema last year with the critically-acclaimed Love, Simon. Coming to terms with his sexuality previously, here his character is wrestling with the passing of his brother, only to be confronted by a peculiar scenario that soon turns sinister.
Robinson plays Philip who cuts an emotionally withdrawn figure, as he stumbles around on crutches. It’s clear from the outset there are little signs of a united front in his family, epitomised by his acid-tongued mother Charlene (Amy Ryan), whose bitterness goes far beyond the death of her son Ronnie.
Holding grudges over her previous job and hurling insults towards her ex-husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) along with his fresh ‘Malibu Barbie’ girlfriend, you can hardly consider her approachable in her fragile state. Daring to face her wrath is former flame of Ronnie’s Melissa (Margaret Qualley), arriving five years on to make the ballsy and outlandish claim that she is heavily pregnant with his child, laying the foundations for the film’s spiral into a tightly-wound thriller.
Multiple Google searches of posthumous reproduction, prolonged sessions with psychics, ‘Strange But True’ mostly plays it straight with its admittedly ludicrous plotting, very much embracing its bizarre tendencies whilst looking to maintain a serious tone throughout.
Trying to ratchet up the tension in one instance whilst seemingly keen to retain the delicious bite of its dialogue, particularly in the scathing remarks Amy Ryan’s given to deliver. For all the actor’s strong commitment to the material, director Rowan Athale does occasionally struggle to maintain a fine balance. That said, he is certainly assured in shrouding the narrative with a strong sense of mystery. Leaping between its ensemble through this dark suburbia, Athale is assured in executing the third act twists with relish as the suspenseful drama escalates.
Considering the tone ‘Strange But True’ aims for, it’s perhaps a given certain performances enliven proceedings more than others. Amy Ryan is definitely the standout, whose mean-spirited outbursts only disguise the inner heartache that lurks, thoroughly convincing you to believe in this peculiar plight. Blythe Danner and Brian Cox’s doting rural couple are an amiable presence, who are the solid support system Margaret Qualley’s Melissa has struggled to establish. Much of the film’s plot rests on the shoulders of Qualley and for the most part, she delivers (no pregnancy pun intended!) it with real conviction, whilst Nick Robinson’s Philip makes for a solid sleuth in the wake of such news.
Your enjoyment will undoubtedly depend on whether you can buy into its admittedly trashy premise. Nonetheless, ‘Strange But True’ is a fun, pulpy thriller that is elevated above its average trappings through strong character work by its talented cast.
Directed by: Rowan Athale
Cast: Nick Robinson, Amy Ryan, Mena Massoud, Brian Cox, Margaret Qualley, Greg Kinnear