This coming Friday would’ve been Adrienne Shelly’s 50th birthday so I’m going to be posting reviews of five of her movies over the next few days. I figured I should begin with these Hal Hartley films as that’s where she got her start.
First of all, I’ll say a little bit about why I’ve chosen to devote a few days to Adrienne Shelly’s films. I became interested in checking out more of her work after watching the fantastic film Waitress, which she wrote & directed and in which she also starred. I watched Waitress while pregnant just like its main character (played by Keri Russell) and the movie just “spoke” to me in that special sort of way that I know only fellow diehard film lovers might understand. I’d seen her in nothing before & sadly didn’t even know her name until news of her murder just before the film’s release.
Anyway – I won’t go into Waitress now as I’ll be reviewing that on Friday but I so loved the movie & its mix of quirky characters (including Shelly’s role) that I wanted to see the films she’d starred in previously. Wow – they’re hard to get hold of! The one I’m most interested in (Sudden Manhattan, which she also wrote & directed) isn’t available. Of what I could get, I have to say that I liked Waitress far more than the films she only starred in. It’s sad to think of the other fantastic movies she could have made had she not been so cruelly taken from her family, her friends, and the filmmaking world.
The Unbelievable Truth (1989)
Directed & Written by Hal Hartley
Starring: Adrienne Shelly, Robert Burke, Christopher Cooke, Julia McNeal, Katherine Mayfield, Gary Sauer, Mark Bailey, David Healy, Matt Malloy, Edie Falco, Paul Schultze, Bill Sage
Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
After serving time for murder, Josh Hutton returns to his home town where me meets Audry Hugo. No one can remember exactly what Josh did, but they are all wary of him, especially Audry’s father.
I honestly don’t know how to go about reviewing these two Hal Hartley films. I’ll say they’re definitely NOT going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I do like indie films but they’re all different – I love some but hate others that I find desperate or pretentious. Too many films get the “indie” label slapped on them nowadays so the definition has become muddled. I can say, though, that these two Hartley films are the true definition of INDIE (in all caps & bold!). Hartley has a very unique style & I can say that I’ve never seen any other movies quite like these two.
I watched The Unbelievable Truth first & liked it quite a bit (and much more than Trust, although I get the impression that most Hartley fans prefer Trust?). I just thought it had the better story & I liked the characters a lot more. Both films are less about the “story”, I think, than about the odd mix of characters & how they relate to each other. I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of social commentary going on as well (especially in Trust) that I’m just a little too thick to fully grasp.
Once again, I know nothing about filmmaking but this movie felt very art house to me. The conversations between characters are bizarre & don’t feel like how people would actually interact with each other in the “real world”. Hartley also films the characters in odd ways, such as the way he makes them stand as they speak (almost as if they’re in a play). I’m sure this is a specific style used in art films as I remember old school 1970’s Sesame Street as well as Saturday Night Live spoofing this technique. I really want to share the Sesame Street clip so you know what I mean but I can’t find it! Maybe that’s why I liked this movie, though, as I adore old school Sesame Street. 😉 Oh, I did look up the proper definition of art film at Wikipedia just now and, yes, these are most definitely art films:
An art film is typically a serious, independent film aimed at a niche market rather than a mass market audience. An art film is “intended to be a serious artistic work, often experimental and not designed for mass appeal”; they are “made primarily for aesthetic reasons rather than commercial profit”, and they contain “unconventional or highly symbolic content”.
Well, I doubt that what I’ve said so far is really selling this film to anyone… I think both films have the potential to be someone’s all-time favorite film (perusing the IMDB message boards confirms this for me) but you really have to be a big fan of art house indie cinema if you’re going to watch these.
The quirky characters in this film are what sold it to me. And, yes – I liked the awkward ways in which they interacted with one another. I especially liked the two leads with their strange love story (Robert Burke being quiet & mysterious and Shelly being brooding & adorable) and I found the father of Shelly’s character quite funny. This is one of those indie films that worked for me. Yes, it has a dark humor & is “quirk city” but it was fun & entertaining and didn’t feel pretentiously fake like many indie films do nowadays.
But I watched these films simply to see Adrienne Shelly & I wasn’t disappointed. I loved her character in this: a smart & unusual teenage girl who is obsessed with the thought of nuclear war & who falls for a mysterious man who has just finished a jail term for murder. She was unconventionally beautiful (by Hollywood standards – I think she was gorgeous) and it’s a shame that she didn’t become a more well known name for her work. However, it’s also great in many ways that she remained an “indie queen” in this hidden little gem of a movie. If you’re interested in watching one of her films, I’d still recommend her own Waitress movie first but The Unbelievable Truth is most definitely worth your time as well if you love Waitress as much as I did.
My Rating: 7.5/10
Directed & Written by Hal Hartley
Starring: Adrienne Shelly, Martin Donovan, Edie Falco, Merritt Nelson, John MacKay
Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
When Maria (Shelly), a recent high school dropout, announces her unplanned pregnancy to her family, her father dies of heart failure, her mother immediately evicts her from the household and her boyfriend breaks up with her. Lonely and with nowhere to go, Maria wanders her town in search of a place to stay. Along the way, she meets Matthew (Donovan), a highly educated and extremely moody electronics repairman. The two begin an unusual romance built on their sense of mutual admiration and trust.
After really enjoying The Unbelievable Truth, I found Trust to be disappointing. Both films are very obviously from the same director but the “quirk city” thing that worked for me in the first film just didn’t quite connect with me this time. I think some Hartley fans do prefer this one, though, so I guess it just depends on the sort of thing you go for.
Both films have a dark humor but this one is definitely much darker plus I didn’t like any of the characters at all, really, whereas they were the best thing about The Unbelievable Truth. Shelly’s teenage character is the best thing about both films but this time comes across as a bit “bratty” at first. However, this does turn around plus ends up being completely understandable as we spend more time with her asshole family. I also liked the male love interest far less in this movie but, again, that may just be me as a lot of fans really liked him. He’s extremely emotionally unstable which is fine but, no thanks – he’s far too high maintenance for my taste! I just bought into the whole thing of “two people not fitting into society yet bizarrely working perfectly as a couple in their own fucked-up way” thing much more in The Unbelievable Truth. I found that I didn’t care what happened to the characters in Trust.
I’m keeping this review short as I think I covered everything in the first review. Basically, this is the same movie again but darker, with an even more meandering story that seemed to go nowhere, and with characters I didn’t like. It’s not a bad movie, though – these are two unique films & I can understand why Hartley has a following of fans (and why others would absolutely hate his stuff). From what I’ve read, all of his films have the same sort of style so I don’t know if I’ll ever watch another one as, yes, I only watched these to see Adrienne Shelly. I’m slightly curious about seeing more and if they differ much, though – if they were more easily available I might check one out. I’d love to hear from any fans of his but think my blog may have finally gone a bit too obscure this time. 😉 Has anyone else here ever watched a Hal Hartley film?
My Rating: 6/10
*I know that not many people will have even heard of these movies so I’m including the trailers in case you’re at all interested…