Taken at face value as satire, True Stories is condescending and simplistic – a tired condemnation of consumerism as a spiritual force. David Byrne could conflate a certain midwestern happiness with a naive embrace of capitalism – a musical number late in the game involving a series of advertisement-based Talking Heads members could be seen as the thesis.
I say all of that with a definite potentiality to all of the verbs. Could be seen as so and so. Because, despite what’s all there on the surface, True Stories never feels patronising, never feels like it’s making fun of Virgil, Texas, and the way its denizens – liars, fools, cheaters though they may be – live. Instead, Byrne finds legitimate awe and curiosity in the proceedings, bringing out the beauty of this specific time of America, where consumerism and idealism walked hand in hand. When a microchip company bringing up a small town could be seen as a sign of a happy future, where jobs were plentiful and technology was impossibly endless. Where never getting out of bed because one doesn’t have to is both a sign of laziness and a sign of prosperity. The film’s spirit is most embodied in the character of Louis (played by a young and impossibly adorable John Goodman), who eventually places an ad for a girlfriend on the TV, and whom Byrne embraces without an ounce of pity. He has the ability to advertise his love, so why shouldn’t he? Just because the festival celebrating the town’s “Specialness” is paid for and primarily exists as an ad for the electronics company doesn’t mean it can’t also be used as a venue to proclaim truth and beauty in the face of an infinite future.
An exceedingly optimistic film, even if such attitude is what immediately dates it as one from a long ago time.