True Stories (1986)

“When I see a place for the first time, I notice everything.”

A visitor (David Byrne) to a small Texan town tells stories about its strange citizens — including a lonely bachelor (John Goodman), a compulsive liar (Jo Harvey Allen), and a woman who never gets out of bed (Swoosie Kurtz).


This directorial debut by Scottish musician David Byrne has “eccentric” written all over it, in bold strokes. Unfortunately, it tries so hard to convey the zaniness of its “average” small town characters that it falls flat again and again. Byrne apparently based his ensemble tale on oddballs he read about in tabloid magazines — but their inherent quirkiness doesn’t necessarily lead to amusement, and we don’t spend nearly enough time with any of them to begin to care about their lives. The most interesting characters in the movie — John Goodman as a lonely bachelor, and Swoosie Kurtz as a woman who never gets out of bed — could have been the basis for a more interesting comedy, but this opportunity was lost.

The soundtrack by the Talking Heads is what would ostensibly draw one to this film; however, for some reason, their songs are almost always sung by actors rather than the band itself. The most enjoyable musical number in the movie occurs when Kurtz is lying in bed watching television, and a Talking Heads music video comes on the screen — this is when we finally understand the zaniness underlying Byrne’s sensibility as a musician, and we immediately want to hear more. The one exception to this rule is when Goodman sings “People Like Us” during the town’s sesquicentennial celebration; he’s got a surprisingly fine voice, and is a joy to listen to.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • John Goodman as lonely Louis Fyne
    Louis Fyne
  • Swoosie Kurtz as Miss Rollings, “the laziest woman on Earth”
  • The Talking Heads performing “Love for Sale” as a music video
  • John Goodman singing “People Like Us”

Must See?
Yes, simply for its status as a cult favorite. However, I can’t really recommend this film for anyone other than Talking Heads fans.



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