Since 2015’s ‘Gone Girl’, the resurgence of the psychological thriller has blossomed. Year after year, studios still seem to be attempting to reclaim David Fincher's success with films like ‘The Girl On The Train’ and ‘The Snowman’. All these films have had various degrees of success but most fail, especially critically. ‘Strange but True’ adds its name to this ever-growing list.
Five years after the death of Phillip’s (Nick Robinson, ‘Love, Simon’, ‘The Kings of Summer’) brother Ronnie (Connor Jessup, TV’s ‘American Crime’), his girlfriend Melissa (Margaret Qualley, ‘The Nice Guys’, ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’) shows up, almost nine months pregnant and claims it’s Ronnie’s. Of course, Ronnie’s whole family takes this as a shock and his mother, Charlene (Amy Ryan, ‘Birdman’, ‘Late Night’) immediately calls her ex-husband Richard (Greg Kinnear, ‘Brigsby Bear’, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’) to help get to the bottom of the mystery, though tension still lies between them. Meantime, Melissa is living with an older couple, Gail (Brythe Danner, ‘Meet the Parents’, ‘The Chaperone’) and Bill (Brian Cox, ‘Her’, ‘Pixels’), who also have secrets of their own.
On paper, the film sounds really fascinating, but after the initial reveal of the pregnancy, the film instantly loses steam... and that’s the opening scene of the film. The major problem is that there are way too many characters for this story to pan out in an interesting way. The focus should be on Ronnie’s immediate family but they bring all of these outside players in - first the older couple who are both hiding things from each other, then you also have Phillip seeking out Ronnie’s friend Chaz (Mena Massoud, ‘Aladdin’), and also a storyline about how Charlene was fired from the library and the tension she has with the staff there. These subplots make sense in a novel - which of course this film is based on - but here it just bogs down the film's short 90-minute run time and makes it feel unfocused.
On paper, the film sounds really fascinating, but after the initial reveal of the pregnancy, the film instantly loses steam... and that’s the opening scene of the film.
Melissa, the catalyst for the plot of the film, is instantly lost and is forced to sit in the wings as the film falls apart around her. A large portion of the film is dedicated to the older couple she lives with and their own personal drama, which is just a very odd choice for this story. The film stops becoming about how did she get pregnant with a man who has been dead for five years and instead chooses to focus on whether this couple still loves each other. The parts that focus on Ronnie’s family are quite enjoyable and captivating, but they get lost in the overall narrative. The third act of the film does get a little wild and while I can see some not enjoying it, the cast is extremely strong and does a really good job of keeping you invested in the film's final act. Robinson once again proves he is an extremely talented and capable actor, he just needs to pick stronger films.
As someone who has sat through a lot of ‘Gone Girl’-lite films, ‘Strange but True’ is far from the bottom of the barrel; it sits perfectly in the middle. While the film loses itself in its narrative, the cast is definitely great, and it's worth checking out even just for the wild third act.