Movie Review: Ruth Wilson looks for “True Things” about her character

Her new man gives working-class Kate the once over and asks a question that sits heavily on the viewer’s mind.

“How come you’re always like this?”

What’s he talking about? “Impulsive,” because she just slipped out to meet him, on the sly. Because their first “date” was basically a vigorous shag in a parking garage. “Sexy?” “Compliant?” Because she gingerly went along with his “lose your knickers” orders. No. That’s not it.

“Beguiling.”

And as Kate is played by Ruth Wilson of TV’s “The Affair,” “Dark River” and “The Little Stranger,” we get it and agree. That’s become her calling card on screen — damaged, guarded but alluring and above all “beguiling.”

“True Things” is about a reckless woman whose lifetime of bad decisions may have finally caught up with her with this latest fling. Kate’s pal Alison (Hayley Squires) may have gotten her a job at an unemployment benefits office. But that doesn’t mean that heedless, mercurial Kate won’t muck things up.

Gentle lectures from Alison about how she needs to “get your priorities right” fall on distracted, deaf ears. A stern “final warning” from her boss about her absences and general goofing-off is almost laughed away with a bad joke. Her parents (Elizabeth Rider and Frank McCusker) ask about her new bloke, and get an even worse zinger. The guy’s just having a bit of bother “getting on his feet.”

“What’s THAT mean?” “He hasn’t any legs!”

There’s no joking about the line that Kate crosses with the rugged fellow she calls “Blond” (Tom Burke of “The Souvenir” and “Mank”). He was a client applying for aid. He is brazen, confident and oblivious to the “relationship” that’s dictated by work rules set by the state. He comes on to her. And she is so bowled over that she accepts.

That could get her fired. Sneaking back into the office to get his particulars out of his digital file isn’t allowed, either. But heck, she needs the phone number of this stranger she just had a go with.

She’s so unmoored by this attention that her usual carelessness and distraction reaches another level — forgetting to show up, for friends, for work, etc. She is obsessed and her rash behavior makes us ponder if she is on some sort of spectrum.

It takes a blind date set-up with “a nice man” to show how far Kate has gone off course. She doesn’t know how to act around anyone who isn’t rough, domineering, callous with a hint of cruel about him. A shag in a parking garage is her “normal.”

Adapted from a darkly comical pyschological novel by Deborah Kay Davies, this film’s original title was “True Things About Me” and Wilson was set to co-star in it with Jude Law. The title change is telling, but the recasting helps it settle on a more obvious self-failing of Kate’s — a lack of self-esteem.

She has a middle class office job, good parents and is damned attractive, no matter what one enraged punk client tells her. And “Blond” is straight-up rough trade, a guy beneath her, a guy she knows nothing about, with an old car and no visible means of support.

“Do I look like someone who could work for other people?”

His cockiness and even his brush-offs may be catnip to her. We can see what’s going on, but wonder what’s underlying it.

We never really find out. The messaging in this Harry Wootliff (“Only You” was hers) film seems fuzzy and diffuse. Kate has a journey to make, but it’s hard to get a handle on what ails her, and what can fix it.

But Wilson holds our attention with her manner, her actions and her eyes, creating a broken beauty who may be too flighty to figure out her “gather ye rosebuds” years are coming to an end, and too impulsive to see the impulses that help make her “beguiling” are just self-defeating and self-destructive.

Rating: unrated, drug abuse, sex, nudity, profanity

Cast: Ruth Wilson, Tom Burke and Hayley Squires

Credits: Directed by Harry Wootliff, scripted by Harry Wootliff and Molly Davies, based on the by Deborah Kay Davies. A Samuel Goldwyn release.

Running time: 1:42

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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