Strange But True is roughly the 30,573,483,483,084th movie — in 2019 alone! — to regurgitate the most overused device in the screenwriting (or, perhaps, the editing) handbook, one so prevalent I’ve even covered it before:
When a movie starts with bits and pieces of the climax, before bringing us back to the beginning of the story so we can find out what led to SUCH AN EXCITING CONCLUSION!!! Sometimes, there are thematic and narrative justifications for doing so — yay! But when there aren’t — or, even when there are, it’s hard to escape the suspicion that this sort of introduction is being used only because teasing the ultimate stakes is the easiest way to convince us to persevere through all the “boring” bits between now and the excitement we’ve been promised. It’s a problem related to another I’ve harped on and on about: scripts starting too early in their plots; it’s almost like filmmakers can’t figure out how to crack compelling openings that engage without so artificially and transparently showing their hand.
Oh, and Strange But True gets worse from there, with equal craftsmanship to boot. It’s worth watching…if you’ve ever wanted to see what actors floundering without a director look like. Or, if you’ve ever wondered how important directors actually are to acting, specifically in eliciting performances that all feel somewhat of a piece, existing in relatively the same cinematic world the movie conjures. Then again, feeling like they exist at all — i.e., are alive, like living and breathing humans — would’ve been nice! In Strange But True, they’re walking and talking text, with as much animation as Times New Roman.
The “Hamstrung Ensemble” of the year is an annual award of my own invention. It’s intended to designate the MOST hamstrung ensemble…and I’m still wrestling with what that means. Is it the ensemble with the biggest gap between their talent and the material? Is it an award for the best actors giving the worst performances (which would support my inclination to dub it “The Marvel Award for Hamstrung Ensemble”)? Should I factor in the size of the ensemble, like how many greats are hamstrung?
In any case, come January, Strange But True’s Greg Kinnear, Brian Cox, Blythe Danner, Amy Ryan, Margaret Qualley and Nick Robinson will be on the shortlist!