The Trouble With the Truth: Film Review

Winning Edge Partners/1428 Films
A divorced couple rehash their relationship in this touching indie drama.

John Shea and Lea Thompson deliver beautifully etched performances in Jim Hemphill's touching, small-scale portrait of a divorced couple.

Not since My Dinner With Andre has a film consisting largely of a single conversation been such compelling viewing. While Jim Hemphill’s The Trouble With the Truth lacks the thematic heft of Louis Malle’s classic, this portrait of a middle-aged divorced couple reassessing their lives and relationship is the sort of subtle, grown-up drama all too often missing even from indie cinema. Featuring stellar performances by John Shea and Lea Thompson, the film will hopefully find its discerning audience.

We are first introduced to Robert (Shea), a jazz musician who’s long ago given up his artistic aspirations and settled for playing piano in a swanky hotel bar to a clientele to which he feels immeasurably superior. The sort of overgrown man-child who prefers one-night stands with passing strangers over committed relationships, he not surprisingly attempts to discourage his daughter (Danielle Harris) when she informs him that she’s engaged to be married.

The reason he cites is his own failed marriage to her mother, Emily (Thompson), a successful novelist who has since gotten remarried to a wealthy businessman. But when Emily shows up at the hotel and the former couple enjoy a reunion over dinner, it soon becomes apparent that her seemingly now perfect life has its own complications.Most of the film’s running time is consumed by the resulting conversation between the former couple. As they rehash their relationship in honest and often painfully funny fashion, their enduring love and mutual attraction becomes palpably clear. A genuine erotic tension develops as they flirt with the idea of spending the night together.

Hemphill’s screenplay features the sort of complex and subtle characterizations that defy easy stereotypes, with Robert displaying a witty self-knowledge that makes his flaws seem all too human and Emily revealing an endearing warmth and vulnerability. The free-flowing dialogue feels utterly natural, and the climactic scene is both poignant and teasingly ambiguous. With its tight time frame and few locations, the proceedings at times more closely resemble a stage play than a film, but the fluid camerawork and editing prevent things from ever feeling static.  

Shea and Thompson--each conveying an alluring sexuality in the best screen roles they’ve had in years—are so appealing that it becomes impossible not to root for their characters to get back together. But they also effortlessly display an intelligence and maturity that painfully reminds us that such easy solutions are not always possible.

Opens Sept. 14 (Winning Edge Partners/1428 Films)
Cast: Lea Thompson, John Shea, Danielle Harris, Keri Lynn Pratt, Rainy Kerwin, Ira Heiden
Director/screenwriter: Jim Hemphill
Producers: Daniel Farrands, Thommy Hutson
Executive producers: James W. Hemphill, Nancy Yudchitz
Director of photography: Roberto Correa
Editor: Michael Benni Pierce
Production designer: C.J. Strawn
Music: Sean Schafer Hennessy
Rated, R, 96 min.