“Strange But True” starts with an absurd but interesting mystery but then it is turned into something less engaging as eventually arriving at a resolution too easy and contrived to say the least. While I am still reluctant to recommend it due to my big disappointment with its final act, the movie is watchable to some degree mainly thanks to its several main cast members, who surely try to make their respective characters as plausible as possible and ably carry the film well on the whole.
The story begins with the sudden appearance of a young woman named Melissa (Margaret Qualley) in front of Philip (Nick Robinson) and his mother Charlene (Amy Ryan). Five years ago, Philip’s brother Ronnie (Connor Jessup) died due to some unfortunate accident, and Philip and Charlene are still struggling with their loss and grief over Ronnie’s death, but now they are baffled as Melissa, who was Ronnie’s girlfriend at that time, comes into their life again with an unbelievable news. It is quite apparent that she has been pregnant for several months, and, for some reason, she firmly believes that her baby’s father is Ronnie, who, according to her, actually contacted with her from the other side and then somehow impregnated her.
Of course, Charlene and Philip cannot possibly believe Melissa at first, but then they cannot help but wonder about whether Melissa is really pregnant with Ronnie’s child. At one point, Charlene goes to a local library for getting any information on a certain possibility, and she comes to have some suspicion on her ex-husband Richard (Greg Kinnear), a gynecologist who has currently lived with his second wife in Florida since their bitter divorce after Ronnie’s death. Although his physical condition is not exactly ideal due to a recent accident, Philip also starts his own investigation, and that eventually leads him to a psychic who gave Melissa an experience to remember (She delivers the most humorous line in the film during her meeting with Philip, by the way).
Meanwhile, we also get to know about Bill (Brian Cox) and Gail (Blythe Danner), an old couple who has provided Melissa a place to stay. As revealed later in the story, Melissa broke up with her parents due to her belief on the other side some time ago, but then Bill and Gail kindly let her live in a guest house near their residence located at some remote spot outside her suburban neighborhood, and she really appreciates their generosity as shown from the warm interactions between her and them, though she has not told them anything about her baby’s father yet.
As Charlene and Philip continue to delve further into their ongoing situation, Richard eventually enters the picture for talking more with his ex-wife, and he surely has something to reveal to his ex-wife. Despite his rather thankless role, Greg Kinnear, who has been always reliable since his Oscar-nominated supporting turn in “As Good As It Gets” (1997), ably fills his role with human nuances, and the same thing can be said about Amy Ryan, who has seldom disappointed us since her unforgettable Oscar-nominated supporting turn in “Gone Baby Gone” (2007).
And then the story takes a dark narrative turn as announced in advance by the very first shot of the film. I will not go into details here for avoiding any possible spoiler, but I must say that I was quite disappointed to see that the screenplay by Eric Garcia, which is based on the novel of the same name by John Searles, is devolved into a run-of-the-mill thriller during its final act. While we surely get the answer to the mystery surrounding Melissa in the end, it feels rather artificial in my humble opinion, and I was also dissatisfied with how the story delivers the ending too conveniently.
At least, director Rowan Athale did a competent job of establishing a tense and unnerving mood around the characters in the film, and I enjoyed the performances from some of the main cast members including Kinnear and Ryan. While Nick Robinson and Connor Jessup are adequately cast in their respective youthful roles, Blythe Danner and Brian Cox are effective as bringing a substantial amount of life and personality to their characters, and you may notice the brief appearance of Mena Massoud, who has recently been more prominent thanks to his leading role in “Aladdin” (2019).
Above all, the movie depends a lot on the ambiguous acting of Margaret Qualley, who is the daughter of Andie MacDowell and has recently drawn more attention from us as appearing in a number of notable films such as “The Nice Guys” (2016), “Novitiate” (2017), and “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” (2019). While frank and forthright on the surface, Melissa often disturbs us with her strange obliviousness to her outrageous claim, and Qualley deftly balances her character between elusiveness and earnestness as constantly suggesting whatever lies behind her character’s seemingly tranquil appearance. Although it is a shame that the movie does not utilize her character that well during its last act, Qualley leaves a considerable impression here, and it will be interesting to see more of her undeniable talent in the future.
In conclusion, “Strange But True” does not work as well as intended, but it is not a total bore at least because of the admirable effort from Qualley and several other talented performers in the film. Although it is indeed flawed in many aspects, I admire it to some degree how it toys with its preposterous story promise, and you may have a fairly entertaining time with it if you do not expect much from it.