TIFF 2021 Review: A Mad Romance Rearranges the Senses in “True Things”

The ground trembles when Kate (Ruth Wilson) has sex with a man (Tom Burke) she’s only just met in “True Things,” placing her bare feet on his shoes in a parking lot where the concrete floor is making her feet cold. There are plenty of reasons for her to be uncomfortable, knowing that this stranger has a criminal record from poking around his background at her humdrum job, but as likely the first person of either gender to ask what she’s up to for lunch in some time — typically “a sandwich in the office kitchen,” she responds — the bleached blond brimming with confidence has put her ease, rescuing her from questions from her mother about when she’s going to settle down after her cousin has already had three kids or her co-worker (Hayley Squires) setting her up on blind dates that go nowhere.

The man never gets more acknowledgement from her iPhone than “Blond,” but he becomes all-consuming in Harry Wootliff’s adaptation of Deborah Kay Davies’ novel “True Things About Me,” co-written with Molly Davies, that channels the surge of infatuation that Kate experiences in those glorious early days of a relationship where any questions would just slow it down until inevitably the mystery starts to become frustrating. While she’s intrigued with him, Wootliff and co-writer Molly Davies make Kate a bit of an enigma herself, hardly invested in any aspect of her life, whether it’s her work where she regularly runs late, or her romantic affairs where flipping through dating apps, thinking of the possibilities, seems more satisfying than the reality right in front of her. That all changes upon meeting the devil-may-care rapscallion played by Burke, who following up his turn in “The Souvenir” might as well have “trouble” stamped on his forehead, but then again that’s what Kate might be looking for when she has no strong ideas otherwise.

Refreshingly, no one asks Kate to have them in “True Things,” at least those behind the camera as her new fling looks less like someone she sees as a soulmate than an adventure she’s been yearning for, eventually using him to figure out what she wants as readily as he uses her for her car to seek out “possible business ventures.” With Wilson, an actress who’s steadily built up a reputation for characters who lean into their rough edges rather than run away from them, there is plenty to explore as Kate, a fascinating jumble of competing impulses, content to tell jokes that nobody enjoys but herself and dance alone yet imagining that a more satisfying life must require someone beside her. Her brilliant turn is complimented nicely by the reliably expressive camerawork of “Madeline’s Madeline” cinematographer Ashley Connor, masterfully navigating the colors that come into Kate’s life with the arrival of a new flame and the harsh light of day that follows, and Alex Baranowski’s propulsive score, reworking the synapses firing in her head from classical to electronic as the pulse races. “True Things” may tell of someone who needs a little more excitement in their life, but it delivers just that to everyone else.

“True Things” will screen once more at the Toronto Film Festival virtually on September 17th at 5 pm, available in Canada.