After finishing the movie Strange But True, my mind was fixed on one question. Why…why…WHY did Greg Kinnear choose to be in this movie? As I lay awake tossing-and-turning, I generated three hypotheses. First, Greg likes to work with his friends and he stars with Amy Ryan in both Strange But True and Green Zone. Second, Janaya Stephens appears in Strange But True and she stars in the Kirk Cameron Left Behind movies and in the launch post for this blog, I called Greg Kinnear “the perfect hybrid of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kirk Cameron.” The Kirk Cameron-inspired side of Greg clearly has him working with the same actors & actresses (n=1).
But my third hypothesis for why Greg chose to star in Strange But True is the most serious and the most likely. Greg likes movies about infertility and pregnancy. The crazier the story, the better. On the lighter side, Greg has been in comedies like A Smile Like Yours, about a couple struggling with infertility; Baby Mama, about a woman seeking surrogacy; and What Planet Are You From?, about an alien that comes to earth to procreate and ensure the survival of its species. On the darker side, Greg has been in thrillers like Godsend, about a couple who clones their deceased son by having his stem cells implanted in the woman’s womb; and Strange But True; about a girl who’s been impregnated by her boyfriend who died five years prior. If I ever turn this blog into a book (publishers, I’m open to a book deal!), there will be a chapter titled ‘Peculiar Pregnancies’ about these five movies.
Directed by Rowan Athale, Strange But True mixes thriller types. The first part of the movie is a suspenseful whodunit, while the movie’s last act is a harrowing escape from whodunit. The movie opens with Margaret Qualley, who is nearly 40 weeks pregnant, visiting the home of the Chase family. At home are family matriarch, Amy Ryan, and her son Nick Robinson, who has a mysterious leg injury he claims is from a biking accident. Not at home are Amy’s ex-husband Greg Kinnear (who lives out-of-state with his new wife) and Amy’s other son Connor Jessup (who died five years ago). As it turns out, Margaret used to date Connor and the only time she’s ever had sex was their prom date which is also the night Connor died. (All these details are stated in the movie’s first 10 minutes, but there are unnecessary flashbacks to ‘prom night’ throughout the movie). Margaret is here to tell Amy and Nick that she is pregnant with Connor’s son. To deliver the news, she plays a cassette tape from the fortune teller who told her Connor is the father.
After she leaves, Nick speculates that his brother froze sperm which was later used for insemination. Amy is curious to find out more and goes to the library for research. (It’s baffling why Amy doesn’t use her own laptop to google “freezing sperm”). At this point, every intelligent viewer realizes that no teenager freezes his sperm but also that that this movie is taking itself too seriously for Margaret’s pregnancy to in any way be supernatural. So the next part of the movie will be figuring out who the father is. There are two red herring suspects, but they can be ruled out immediately. It’s clear Nick’s leg injury has nothing to do with Margaret’s pregnancy. Likewise, Mena Massoud is introduced as a friend from high school, but he played Aladdin in the live-action film so it’s clearly not him. (His role in this movie is extremely unnecessary. You may be picking up on the fact that this movie has a lot of unnecessary scenes. Another unnecessary scene, for example, shows Nick visiting Margaret’s fortune teller who tells him that he is lying about his leg injury. This was already painfully obvious). So the two real suspects are Greg Kinnear or Brian Cox aka Margaret’s landlord.
We soon learn that Greg is (A) a fertility doctor and (B) pays Margaret’s rent. Meanwhile, Brian Cox and his wife Blythe Danner have a loving pseudo-parental relationship with Margaret and are lined up to be the child’s godparents. These signs seem to indicate that Greg impregnated Margaret himself or with sperm he collected from his son after death. But Amy confronts Greg and learns he formed a platonic relationship with Margaret to mutually grieve over Connor’s death. At the same time, Brian has an uncomfortable conversation with Margaret about his desire to have kids and Blythe finds Ruffies in Brian’s old cigarette packs. In other words, Brian used Ruffies to repeatedly rape Margaret resulting in the pregnancy.
At the moment of this revelation, everyone is–of course–in the same place. That place is Brian and Blythe’s farmhouse. Blythe confronts Brian in the basement about the Ruffies. (A poor choice of confrontation location, as any viewer easily predicts that Brian kills Blythe). Meanwhile, Margaret rents a cottage behind the farmhouse where Nick has come to tell her about his leg injury. (It’s the movie’s dumbest reveal; he intentionally got hit by a cab so he could move out of NYC).
Margaret goes into labor and Nick rushes her to his car which is stuck outside the locked gate to the farmhouse driveway on the other side of a forest. Then Margaret pleads for Nick to go back and get her baby’s godparents. He searches many farmhouse windows before looking into the basement window and seeing Brian with Blythe’s body. At this moment, my wife asked if anyone in the movie owns cell phones. Also at this moment, Nick’s cell phone starts ringing with a call from Greg & Amy. Brian hears the phone and sees Nick. Brian takes a shotgun and chases Nick through the forest before knocking him out. Margaret gives up and Nick, drives herself to the hospital, and delivers the baby. Brian starts to bury Nick alive under his barn, but Greg & Amy arrive in the “Nick” of time to rescue their son.
The main problem with Strange But True is its storytelling, which relies on numerous filler scenes and unnecessary characters despite a runtime of only 96 minutes. (FYI Janaya Stephens was a librarian who took Amy’s old job, for those who’ve been in suspense since the opening paragraph). The second problem is the movie’s adult actors who–on the whole–were very one-dimensional (more on this below). Luckily, the movie’s young actors, i.e. Nick Robinson and Margaret Qualley, are better. Qualley, in particular, imbues her character with enough emotion that the movie’s preposterous premise doesn’t immediately doom it. Another good thing about the movie is that it does a good job generating suspense. Much of the movie is extremely uncomfortable and unsettling as its crosshairs focus on suspects of a sexual crime who are much, much older than the victim. Then in the movie’s final act, the fear that Greg and Amy feel in losing yet another son is very palpable.
The Flighty Fertility Doctor
Greg was just okay. As a whole, it seemed like the adult actors of Strange But True were handed super simplified character beats. I imagine the director’s instructions were something like the following. “Amy, try to act super bitter in every scene.” “Brian, act like a warm father figure but then get murderous when Blythe discovers your Ruffies.” “Greg, act super shady until you’re exonerated, then go fetch your son.”
On that note, Greg basically acts shifty through the movie’s first half. He’s living out of state when the movie opens. As soon as Amy calls him about Margaret’s pregnancy, he starts acting ‘sketch’ as my sister used to say. He sits around his fancy house with his new wife constantly worrying, calls Nick to suss out more info, then flies to town to personally evaluate ‘the sitch’ (as my sister also used to say). It’s not that anything is bad about Greg acting flighty, but it’s also not anything particularly noteworthy.
Then Greg goes into ‘panicked patriarch’ mode as he and Amy rush to Brian’s farmhouse to save Nick. He creeps through the house, finds Blythe’s dead body (and checks for a pulse because he’s a fertility doctor…duh), then finds his son in barn. As Greg rushes to his son, Brian aims a shotgun at both of them. In my heart of hearts, I wanted Greg to bum-rush Brian and tackle him to the floor. But, nah, he just waits it out until Amy runs in and Brian shoots himself instead of murdering a whole family. Overall, it was an average performance from Greg Kinnear with no noteworthy moments that move the needle in either direction.
- In chapter 7 of my forthcoming book, I chronicle how Greg loves to be in movies about peculiar pregnancies, including quirky comedies like Baby Mama, A Smile Like Yours, and What Planet Are You From? and thrillers like Godsend and Strange But True.
- Strange But True starts with the preposterous premise of a girl claiming to be pregnant with the baby of a long-deceased boyfriend. The movie has little in the way of plot, besides finding out who the real baby daddy is, but does a laudable job of generating suspense.
- All adult actors were given one character beat (i.e., Amy Ryan is bitter at all times) or one character beat before the turn and one after it (i.e. Brian Cox is a warm godparent until he’s revealed as the actual dad then he’s just murderous).
- Greg Kinnear’s two character beats were to act suspicious like he could be the baby daddy and then like a worried dad as he tries to save his actual son. His acting was as average as it gets.
- Next-up: Remember the Greg Kinnear movie about aliens coming to earth to procreate that I plugged in the intro? What Planet Are You From? Let’s watch it!
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