"Tru Love" presents a love triangle the likes of which I don't believe I've ever seen before: A gay woman falls in love with her straight friend's closeted mother, but only after having spent a night together with that friend, who still identifies herself as decidedly straight. "Tru" features all the hallmarks of a super low-budget production, but that narrative buoys it - it helps the film to reach melodramatic highs rarely achieved by films of any budget. In short, this may not be any great shakes, but it's a much better movie than its goofy title would suggest.
The main character, perhaps obviously, is Tru (played by co-directed Shauna McDonald.) She's a flighty 30-something juggling multiple relationships before the movie even starts, and her inability to really connect adds an immediacy to the triangle that follows. That triangle sees 60something Alice (Kate Trotter), mother to Tru's friend Suzanne (Christine Horne), drop in town a short while after having lost her husband, looking for some familial rehab. (The husband shows up, ghost style, to talk to Alice at her loneliest moments.)
Suzanne bitchily spurns Alice at every turn, but Tru volunteers to take her to dinner, which leads to some trysts with the older woman. That throws everything out of whack. Tru begins ignoring her other girlfriends to spend time with Alice, for one thing, drawing a fair bit of "You're leaving me for that old woman?"-laced shade. And Suzanne freaks, presumably weirded-out by the fact that her mom is now sleeping with the only girl she's ever slept with, and outright sabotages Tru and Alice's pairing. Screaming matches ensue.
MacDonald and Trotter's acting performances are agreeably warm and sunny until they're not anymore. The work they do is functional, and when it comes time to cry and yell, they do so in the same way we've seen actors do thousands of times before. MacDonald's direction, however, in conjunction with Kate Johnson, is a fair bit better than functional: Those two manage to frame every shot cleanly, cut every scene rhythmically, and rarely -- if ever -- do they defer to improvised handheld camerawork. Some shots of the film, like one faraway take of Tru and Alice on a snow swept beach, are no less than gorgeous.
That lushness clashes with the raw melodrama of the anguished triangle. It's as if Johnson and MacDonald were aiming for an independent take on the tragic studio-set heights reached by Douglas Sirk movies. They don't get that high, of course -- gruddy digital photography, functional acting, a cheap-sounding strummed-out score, and a host of other factors prevent their film from coming anywhere close to Sirk's work. But they've still managed to take a well-worn form (the luscious-looking melodrama) and advance it with a new take on an equally worn narrative (the love triangle.) That's an achievement that demands attention. (Let's just hope they can slap a better title onto their next movie.)
This article is part of our "Cinema Diverse! Palm Springs 2014" series. Want to read more?
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