Although they talk enough to qualify for radio, John Shea and Lea Thompson make the high-wire act of “The Trouble With the Truth” a convincing, moving and provocative two-hander. It’s certainly a chatty movie — the characters discuss their shipwrecked marriage for most of the film’s 96 minutes — but rarely does this nuanced, absorbing drama feel less than honest. The result could be a winner among viewers mature enough to understand the romantic complexities and emotional pitfalls of helmer Jim Hemphill’s script.
The most immediate comparison will be to Louis Malle’s “My Dinner With Andre,” but the focus of conversation in “The Trouble With the Truth” is far less cosmic. The film is centered almost entirely around the now-defunct relationship between Robert (Shea), a lounge pianist and seducer of barmaids, and Emily (Thompson), still married to the man for whom she left Robert some 10 years earlier. It’s the engagement of Robert and Emily’s daughter, Jenny (Danielle Harris), that prompts a reunion dinner at the restaurant of the hotel where they’re both staying; the place is virtually unpopulated, and the atmosphere is heavy with sexual suggestion.
The first thing auds will wonder is why these two ever broke up. Their lingering attraction is obvious: Robert is suave and likable; Emily is devastatingly sexy. The banter Hemphill has written for them has a knowing, teasing familiarity. Even as they relive the more painful episodes of their marriage — Robert’s infidelities, and Emily’s — they maintain a humorously distanced attitude toward the bad times. Hemphill resists the obvious narrative course, avoiding the predictable setup of pleasantries, descent into rancor and reconciliation. Robert and Emily remain civilized in a way that provides dramatic tension throughout, as well as an erotic edge that seems to anticipate the two eventually diving under the table together.
Adding to the suspense is the feeling that the film must eventually collapse: How long can they keep this up without the whole vehicle going off the rails? There are, admittedly, a few moments when the two leads act out of character, seemingly to keep the whole thing in motion. But even with viewers on the lookout for flaws, the screenplay exonerates itself through a number of twists. The biggest ones come at the end, as Hemphill toys with the audience, but they’re not enough to spoil the largely satisfying payoff.
Performances are tops. Shea makes Robert charmingly deluded, and Thompson (TV’s “Switched at Birth”) is remarkable, turning Emily’s dance along the edge of drunkenness into a tour de force.
Tech credits are a bit mixed: A few shots border on claustrophobic, not that they distract much from the dialogue at the film’s core.