“Who do you think lives there? Four-car garage. Hope, fear, excitement, satisfaction.”
David Byrne is one of those dudes who if I ever gave their career the attention it clearly deserves, I feel like I’d respect him more than I like him. I have the first Talking Heads album, and I like it fine enough. And I know their big hits because they still get played on commercial radio regularly today. But there’s always been something a little too arty, a little too deliberately intellectual about David Byrne and Talking Heads for me to really dive in. Weirdly enough, while that’s what turns me off when it comes to his music, they’re the exact same reasons I wanted to see what happens when David Byrne writes and directs a movie. You get True Stories, that’s what happens.
A Narrator (Byrne) drives around a small Texas town in his bright red convertible as citizens prepare for the 150th anniversary celebrations of said town. A boom is underway as more and more money is generated by the local microchip manufacturing plant. And while the town is growing, it’s not growing in the best ways. Miles and miles of desert are turned into miles and miles of suburbs. Identical steel sheds cover the industrial landscape as things like efficiency and practicality outweigh beauty and tradition.
Addressing the camera, but also interacting with this world, the Narrator focuses on several locals in particular. There’s, Louis (John Goodman), a worker at the microchip plant whose search for a wife has becomes so extreme that he’s advertising himself on TV. There’s town council leader Earl (Spalding Grey) who talks to his wife exclusively through his children. There’s an evangelical, conspiracy theorists preacher (John Ingle), a woman who never leaves her bed (Swoosie Gray) and plenty of other weirdos who pop up here and there.
Like Jerry Seinfeld would do on TV a few years later, David Byrne’s best decision was to write specifically for his own limited acting chops. Byrne cannot act, his stilted line delivery and awkward physicality seem way too genuine to be acting choices. But the Narrator is written in this wide eyed, inquisitive way that matches Byrne’s affectations perfectly. And he fills the world around him with such over the top eccentrics, played by great actors, that his own weirdness fits right in seamlessly.
There are plenty of songs, but True Stories is sort of half musical. Characters don’t break into song out of the blue while the rest of the world either doesn’t notice, or somehow knows the perfect choreography to go with it. Here, people perform their songs on stage, for an audience. Or they’re watching a music video on telly. In a movie of such weirdness and quirk, I appreciated this touch of reality.
The songs are good, and I like David Byrne’s slightly off kilter view of the world. So why do I still have no interest in hearing more of his musical output?