'LoveTrue': Tribeca Review

Courtesy of Alma Har'el
True love hits a few roadblocks in this sharp doc.

Shia LaBoeuf helped produce and finance this three-part documentary about imperfect romantic relationships.

Director Alma Har’el won acclaim for an earlier documentary, Bombay Beach, which experimented with blending real and staged footage. Har’el presents the same kind of hybrid in LoveTrue, a sharp examination of unconventional romantic relationships that had its world premiere in Tribeca. Many documentarians have introduced staged recreations into their nonfiction films in recent years, but there’s still something novel about the experiments that Har’el undertakes. Her new movie is likely to win her some new fans while it raises questions about the contours of documentary filmmaking. One of those fans, Shia LaBeouf, acted as executive producer and financed the film.

The director focuses on three separate stories filmed in very different parts of the country. In Alaska, Joel, a handicapped boy, becomes deeply involved with Blake, who keeps her working life as a stripper hidden from him. A young Hawaiian man, Will, struggles to raise his son on his own after separating from a woman who was sleeping with his best friend. And a devout black family in New York is shaken by the bitter split of the parents.

The “love” that is explored in these three stories runs quite a gamut. Joel and Blake cannot have sex because of his physical disability, but they still believe that they are “in love” until Joel learns of Blake’s working life. We never really see Will’s former partner; the love that this segment explores is that of father and son, which is tested when Will learns that the boy is not his biological son. And the New York scenes focus on the betrayal that drove the parents apart and the impact of this discord on one of their daughters.

Clearly the film’s title is ironic, since LoveTrue actually paints a trenchant portrait of imperfect bonds rather than idyllic communion. It suggests that messy and painful relationships may be the norm rather than the exception. Har’el fills in the tale by employing actors to play some of the characters.  For example, we see flashbacks of Will’s childhood, in which actors portray young Will and his parents. In the Alaska scenes, there are interviews with an older stripper that seem to hint at the future ahead for Blake; this woman wears a T-shirt that reads “Older Blake.”

The revelations that pepper all three of these stories are highly dramatic, and they probably could not have been so vividly highlighted without the unconventional storytelling. Despite the fact that actors play some of the parts, we are convinced that we are cutting to the bitter truth of these relationships. Har’el and co-editor Terry Yates weave the stories together artfully. The music by Flying Lotus intensifies the emotional impact. This powerful, idiosyncratic film leaves us pondering some of the complexities that many romantic storytellers blithely ignore.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Documentary Competition)
Director-cinematographer: Alma Har’el
Producers: Alma Har’el, Christopher Leggett, Rafael Marmor, Rhea Scott
Executive producer: Shia LaBeouf
Editors: Terry Yates, Alma Har’el
Music: Flying Lotus

Not rated, 80 minutes