New York kooky indie-moviemaker Hal Hartley's feature debut, THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH tantalizes a somewhat morbid idea that can a reformed manslaughter-convicted ex-con gets a second chance in his hometown where the crime was perpetrated? Freshly out of prison, Josh (Burke) returns to Long Island where his felony has been disproportionately mythologized, he impresses auto-repair shop owner Vic Hugo (Cooke, enjoy some unorthodox outpourings that are rarely seen in a materialistic father) with his autodidactic mechanic skill, therefore he is hired.
Meanwhile, Vic's teenage daughter Audry (Shelly, in her film debut), saturated in her own teen angst, becomes world-weary with nuclear-induced eschatology, she dumps her obsessive boyfriend Emmet (Sauer) and in turn, takes a shine to the reticent Josh, only the latter chooses to suppress his reciprocal feelings and cautiously declines her advancement, clearly learning from his past misdeeds, Josh's celibate stoicism and dark get-up frequently prompts a question from strangers "are you a priest?".
A rebellious and disgruntled Audry procrastinates her college education and takes a bash at modeling, and soon becomes the talk of the small community as she starts to bare all in the magazine spreads. So what does it take to bring the two drifting-apart lovebirds together? The titular "truth" becomes an operative ice-breaker when the manslaughter myth comes clean in a belated confession of the sole witness.
Basking in a loopy, small-town monotony under a simmering temperature that characteristically flags up Audry and Josh's peculiarity, Hartley's meet-cute anachronistically finds a kindred spirit in Todd Solondz's faux-naïf comedies, and juxtaposing Adrienne Shelley's impish wackiness with Robert John Burke's four-square stolidness, chemistry has been incredibly cooked up, to validate that underneath their respective volatile and impassive surfaces, indeed, it is just two tender hearts hankering for a connection to retain some self-worth in a nihilistic fable.
Rounding up a coterie of game players (a puckish Edie Falco included) and shot with pristine efficiency and a low-key kuso-inflected smugness, at the end of the day, THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH briskly augurs Hartley's cottage-industry, outlier-hinged hallmark that is brimful of pleasurable absurdity and sensible geniality.
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