Skip to main content
A Magazine for

True Stories

35 years after release, David Byrne’s satirical, patriotic, postmodern musical still feels like a raw and provocative commentary on everyday life.

True stories film still 2

Maybe I am kinda sad. I like sad songs. They make me want to lie on the floor

You can never have too much of a good thing. David Byrne’s True Stories takes this maxim and runs wildly over a busy high street, trousers and pants around its ankles for everyone to gawp at, into the realm of surreal absurdity.

As you know I’m very aware of my appearance...

Yeah, I’ve noticed

You’re never really quite sure what the point of this film is. Is it Byrne’s commentary on post-war Americana? An idiosyncratic tale of Deep South gentrification? A character study of how different working-class people are perceived compared to governmental elitism?

Many interpretations can be taken from this 90-minute, loose-narrative film. But that would be over egging the pudding. To me, this film is a celebration of the mundane, the excitement of procrastination and a tribute to being a ‘normal’, ‘everyday’, ‘working’ American.

There is a sense of high patriotism throughout, but it also champions the voices of minorities, children and women. Satirical and ironic parody is used effectively, especially when we’re presented with a set piece about advertisement and how it adversely affects a viewer, couple with this upbeat song sung by the Talking Heads.

Movies and television is filled with characters I don’t want to know... not in this life anyway...

The actors breathe life into theses eccentric characters, giving them weird, unfiltered and ‘spunky’ performances which complement the best thing about the film, David Byrne’s auteur style. Like acclaimed concert film Stop Making Sense (1984) and the more recent American Utopia stage show (2019), the strongest thing about this piece of work is Byrne’s eccentric, unadulterated view of the world. This is his most provocative and raw commentary on society. It feels like David Lynch took a bunch of ecstasy and sat staring at daisies all day.

I really enjoy forgetting

‘Postmodernism’ is a term thrown about relentlessly these days, but this genuinely feels like a piece way ahead of its time. It reminds me of The Truman Show, in a sense of the wider societal agenda that that film handles, mixed with a Wizard of Oz-style fantasy land where nothing is important – but where nothing is everything to the characters.

True Stories is a musical scored by Talking Heads. It’s hard not to talk about the brilliance of this band, yet it’s John Goodman’s rendition of their song ‘People Like Us’ that is the perfect personification of the film. It’s enough to make you cry tears through an ear-to-ear smile.

35 years since its release, True Stories still gives you the authority and the right to indulge in the ridiculousness of boring life. If that isn’t true escapism, I’m stuck.

More Film

Pig

The synopsis makes it sound like an arthouse parody of John Wick – but Pig is also a serious and meditative film about our relation to food, grief and each other.

Another Round

Mads Mikkelsen's latest film serves up an alcohol-fuelled experiment, but should he be popping the corks about the resulting storyline?

Bo Burnham: Inside

Hilarious, intimate and intense, Burnham has produced what will surely become a seminal piece of ‘Covid years’ art.

Reviews in Retrospect: Battle Royale

Still serving as inspiration for films and video games, in some ways the afterlife of Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 cinematic masterpiece is no surprise.

More Film