Picks and Pans Review: True Stories

updated 10/20/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/20/1986 01:00AM

Like most of David Byrne's music as singer, songwriter and guiding intellect of art-rock's Talking Heads band, his nonconcert film debut as actor, writer and director is both haunting and hilarious. What it isn't is mainstream moviemaking. The existential setting is a made-up town called Virgil, Texas, which Byrne visits as narrator. Despite his Western garb, the gaunt, chicken-necked Byrne (born in Scotland, raised in Baltimore) resembles a new wave Brother from Another Planet. The resulting feeling of dissociation helps us see afresh, in a series of vignettes and songs, the shopping mall mentality. Byrne drew his characters from supermarket tabloid clippings. There's a fat, forlorn bachelor (beautifully played by John Goodman), the laziest woman in the world (Swoosie Kurtz), a couple (Spalding Gray and Annie McEnroe) who talk only through their children, and a woman (Jo Harvey Allen) who claims she wrote all of Elvis' songs. Byrne rarely stoops to making sport with easy targets. Instead he finds surprising dignity, even courage, in the commonplace. Watching the gifted Byrne invest his ideas and music in characters so alien to himself is one of the wildest, weirdest pick-me-ups of the movie year. (PG)

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