(3.5 / 5)
Whenever a film begins with narration that includes some of the deeper considerations in life like, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “How can you that there is a God?” It is not hard to be intrigued and a bit cynical at this familiar opening. It does anything, these queries develop an expectation and anticipation to see the answers that the filmmakers provide. These are the philosophical and theological questions that seem to open the door to a multitude of possibilities for the adaptation of John Seales acclaimed novel, Strange but True.
Building on these intriguing ponderings, we are introduced to the ambiguous and dreary home of the Chase family. Philip (Nick Robinson) is living on his mother’s lounge, because of an injury to his leg sustained in a bike accident. In a failed attempt to care for her injured son, Charlene (Amy Ryan) brings him some soup, but the gesture shows the emotional tension that exists between the mother and son.
As the story unfolds, they are both still grieving from the death of his brother and her son, Ronnie (played in flashbacks by Connor Jessup), who died in a tragic car accident.Their tomb-like existence is abruptly disrupted by the arrival of Ronnie’s former girlfriend, Melissa (Margaret Qualley). She is heavily pregnant and the visit proves to be more than a courtesy call. The young mother-to-be informsthe family that despite Ronnie dying five years ago, that miraculously she was carrying his child.
Even though the Chases dismiss her claim as pure delusion and fantasy, they cannot ignore her unwavering belief that the child is part of the Chase bloodline. Both Philip and Charlene begin their own investigations into the possibilities behind Melissa’s claim. While Philip goes to a local psychic and asks around to their mutual friends from high school, Charlene reaches out to her ex-husband, Richard (Greg Kinnear). As a fertility physician and with his disassociation from the family after Ronnie’s death, Charlene needs answers from him about his ties to Melissa. The simultaneous investigations lead them to meet Melissa’s landlords and guardians, Gail (Blythe Danner) and her husband Bill (Brian Cox). As each individual is brought into the storyline, more light is shone on the mystery behind this perceived immaculate conception and things begin to go from fantasy to reality.
What director Rowan Athale manages to do is weave variant timelines to keep the audience off-balance without losing the plot. He manages to carefully engulf the different layers of the tale with measured and effective results. The first two acts provide a fascinating journey that makes every character potentially culpable and aware of the deceptions involved. Taking the foundational elements of the philosophical opening and going to consider the answers to this mystery may be more logical than initially thought. The cast is outstanding and each character manages to be part of moving the plot forward. Nick Robinson and Margaret Qualley prove to be fantastic young talent and they are supported by strong performances from the veteran support cast.
The final act does provide satisfactory answers, but the film changes direction and unfortunately becomes a thriller. This shift does make sense for the answers to come to a logical conclusion, but this feels like it was grafted on opposed to fitting the well-crafted setup. This move does not detract from the film’s quality and does provide satisfactory plot solutions, but the jump does cause a disjointedness that is difficult to explain. There was a brilliance to the beginning that failed to be supported by the conclusion. Maybe this frustration results from the profound questions at the outset not being answered or was they and the solutions offered were not satisfactory. Strange But True had the potential for greatness, but seems to settle for being merely good.
REEL DIALOGUE: How do you deal with grief?
John Seales’ novel brings grief to the forefront of people’s lives. Regret, tears, anger, confusion are some of the emotions that come along during this time in the lives of those who lose a loved one. One thing that can be considered about the message of the Bible is that God is not only there for those who grieve, but that he can empathise with them too. His Son died a horrific death and it allows people to know that they can come to a God who knows how they feel during this low in their lives.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18
Another question to consider from this film: Is God a mystery? (Colossians 2:2-3, Ephesians 3:5)