‘True Things’ Film Review: Ruth Wilson Utterly Commits to Discomfiting Romantic Drama

Tom Burke (“The Souvenir”) once again plays the worst guy that a woman can’t help falling for

True Things
Samuel Goldwyn

Sitting across the table from another person, locking eyes, glancing down, laughing, smiling, the gentle flirtations that occur without machinations or intent — these are the rudiments of romance, the forgotten tenets of how we fall in love, if we fall in love at all. To watch this play out in our own lives is one thing; to watch it play out in front of our eyes is almost too intimate an act to process.

Harry Wootliff’s “True Things” is a raw and passionate look at the type of love that can be both all-encompassing and destructive, passionate and dangerous. Ruth Wilson stars as Kate, holding the weight of the film on her shoulders as a chance encounter with a claimant at her work (Tom Burke) sends her on a romantic and unpredictable spiral. Burke, known best to viewers from his turn in Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir,” is back to type: alluring, mischievous, opaque. Kate saves his number in his phone as “Blond,” the only aspect of his of which she’s sure.

Wilson is a formidable actress, poised and technically and mannered, much of which is shirked away in order for her to embody Kate with a familiar nervousness. Kate is shy and awkward, her friendships are shallow and uninteresting, and she struggles under the weight of her parents’ expectations for her. She’s depressed and bored with her life until, even briefly, Blond makes her feel like the only woman in the world.

That’s the way it tends to go with him: he dazzles Kate with attention, then vanishes off into the night without a word, hardly ever answering her calls or texts. From there, we watch, in great pain, as Kate throws herself at Blond at every turn, sacrificing her standing at work and her relationship with her peers in order to impress a guy always searching for the cooling pie on the next windowsill. It’s a simple premise, one elevated by the sheer strength of the two central performances and the close, uneasy cinematography by Ashley Connor (“The Miseducation of Cameron Post”). The longer the audience stays with Kate, the longer we want something to come of this chance encounter, anything to buoy her or tether her to this world.

For the most part, “True Things” is a depiction of this ebb and flow between Kate and Blond. He’s a man almost of her own imagination, rarely if ever integrating himself into her life outside of their clandestine meet-ups. She goes with him to a party; he ghosts. He asks to borrow her car; it’s been missing a week. For how profoundly impossible he is to deal with, Blond embodies a sexy sort of unreliability.

Burke, ever a cipher himself, is seductive and charming. He’s bemused by Kate’s self-doubt and apparent goodness. He likes that she follows the rules, but any time she asks him to behave, he takes it as a personal slight. The two go back and forth several times, and every time Kate forgives Blond, it’s as though she’s fallen deeper under his spell.

The repetition may wear on some viewers — at a little over 90 minutes, the film often strains for drama — but Wilson carries the film on her back with confidence. Kate is endlessly watchable in part due to her relatability: you’ve been her, you’ve known her, you’ve feared becoming her. Though the circumstances are different for everyone everywhere, “True Things” is smart enough to keep the tensions running high enough until it’s almost like watching a thriller. No one is as they seem, true, not only in movies but also in life.

There’s a whole host of buzzwords that could be thrown at a film like “True Things” — love-bombing, narcissism, back-pocketing, toxicity, and so on and so forth. It’s easy at times to watch Wootliff’s film and want to scream at the screen, begging Kate not to text, not to call, to get over him and all his stupid whatever and false promises. But “True Things” is so indelibly moving because this is her journey to go on, her realization to make, her self-respect to glom onto.

From a distance, it could feel easy to blame her for her actions or to grow exhausted by her lack of wherewithal, but the film’s closeness keeps the viewer from pushing back at it, questioning its logic or reasoning. A relationship like the one Kate pursues with Blond isn’t fed by reason; it’s fed by something larger and stranger and endlessly unknowable.

“True Things” opens in US theaters September 9 via Samuel Goldwyn.