(director/writer: Charlie Kaufman; screenwriter: based on the novel by Iain Reid; cinematographer: Lukasz Zal; editor: Robert Frazen; music: Jay Wadley; cast:  Jesse Plemons (Jake), Jessie Buckley (Young Woman), Toni Collette (Mother), David Thewlis (Father), Guy Boyd (School Janitor), Hadley Robinson (Laurey), Gus Burney (Aunt Ella), Abby Quinn (Tulsey Town girl), Oliver Platt (as the voice); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Robert Salerno/Charlie Kaufman/Stefanie Azpiazu; Netflix; 2020)

A fascinatingly weird psychological drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A fascinatingly weird psychological drama written and directed by Charlie Kaufman (“Synecdoche, New York”/”Anomalisa”), but doesn’t hold together as a film that makes sense.

It’s based on the short and elusive novel of the Canadian writer Iain Reid, but is reworked into Kaufman’s usual manic obsessions. The title is derived from one of the heroine’s thoughts that “You can’t fake a thought.”  Though you might think by the title it’s a suicide film, it’s instead a film about a possible relationship break-up.

A young student (Jessie Buckley), who sometimes goes by the name Lucy, doesn’t know why she has been dating her boyfriend for the last six weeks she met at a trivia game, a young talkative man, Jake (Jesse Plemons). She is about to meet his parents, while driving out to their remote rural Oklahoma farm just before a snowstorm. While on the drive she makes up her mind to break off the relationship, which he either picks up by reading her mind or guessing. The young mysterious woman sometimes talks of herself as a biologist, at another time as a painter or poet, and even as a gerontologist.

At the farm, his high-strung parents (Toni Collette & David Thewlis) act proud of their son and propose a large supper for the couple. Mom is nervous and slightly deaf, the British accented dad could be friendly and then for no reason hostile.

Magically over the course of the visit the marrieds become both younger and older as they go from room to room. In the barn, Jake tells Lucy a story about a maggot-infested pig killing off the other pigs.

On the way home, Lucy uses Pauline Kael’s negative review on the John Cassavetes film, A Woman Under the Influence, as her own, which brings on a heated debate to kill time for the drive.

On Jake’s insistence they stop for smoothies at a drive-in called Tulsey Town. The couple sing the TV commercial jingle of the place while driving there. Inside the deserted store, smoking a joint, two giggly blondes (Hadley Robinson and Gus Birney) and a somber brunette (Abby Quinn), are just hanging around. Back in the car the couple argue about an old-time, once popular song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which she claims is a male chauvinist rape song for the guy to use to get closer to his date by using the weather as an excuse.

The couple then stop at his old high school to visit during lunchtime the old sourpuss janitor (Guy Boyd), someone they have been seeing for some strange reason in flashes throughout the film. Here he’s mopping the hall and then eating lunch while watching a “Robert Zemeckis” soap-opera romantic comedy on TV. The couple also catch a student rehearsal for “Oklahoma,” a ballet and a preview of  A Beautiful Mind (a film I deplored but here is made as an homage)

Filled with unanswered existential questions about such things as past and present, reality and illusion, the film is haunting like a scary dream that doesn’t make much sense but is still scary because it might be real. The casual viewer might not connect with such an unusual film, but the acting is superb, the production values are high and I think it’s worth trying to get at what Kaufman is trying to get at — even if it left me more than perplexed.

My advice to the couple is not to tie the knot until they can at least get her name right.

I only had one viewing opportunity in a film that should probably take several viewings if you ever will have a chance of getting its meaning. The inventive absurdist film ends with a stage climax, and should delight Kaufman fans and infuriate those who haven’t acquired the taste for his films.

      Charlie Kaufman

REVIEWED ON 9/21/2020  GRADE: B-