Hot Docs 2013 Review: WE ALWAYS LIE TO STRANGERS

Jason Gorber, Featured Critic
The title is a mouthful, but is a entirely appropriate and poetic link to the film's subject matter, the bizarre Vegas-in-the-Ozarks refuge that is Branson, Missouri.

Nestled in the heart of hillbilly country, the town of 10,000 plays home to millions of visitors a year looking for some heartland-style entertainment. The doc does a great job in finding a wide variety of representative Bransonians that entertain the busloads. It's here that the names Presley and Lennon have a different context than they might on the coasts, where bib panted yokels joke about Democrats and the 5-6-7-8 of song and dance numbers ring out to horrendously orchestrated takes on Village People hits.

Directors AJ Schnack and David Wilson manage to capture some of the inherent beauty of the place, while not forgoing the stress and hardships that lie behind the facade. Faced with an aging demographic and harder economic times, the desire to perform on stage is constantly at odds with the realities of running a business in this highly competitive environment.

The doc does eschew sitting down some of the more infamous members of the community. Sure, Yakov Smirnoff and Andy Williams make appearances at certain events, but we don't hear from them directly about their life in the town. This is not a fault against the film, but it does demonstrate the focus is very much on the stories that underlie what some suggest is the "real" Branson, the families of performers or the myriad song-and-dance people trying to make a go.

we_always_lie2.jpgMixing humorous moments with genuine, heart-wrenching loss, the film proves to be quite an emotional roller coaster. Mixing interviews with verité style, its active camera is deft at capturing some pretty startling moments. The raw conflict and big productions lead to some excellent dramatic moments, and is compelling throughout. It's not a short film, but once you get into its rhythm you feel like you've fallen for these people; I for one wouldn't have minded spending a few more hours with these people, so effortlessly engaging are most of them on screen.

Perhaps the best part is that while Branson is explicitly a town of kitsch, there's nothing smug or sarcastic about the film. While I adore the like of a Christopher Guest-style poke at such pretensions as much as anyone, what comes across in this film instead is a greater diversity and greater introspection than I had any right to expect.

The only falsehood in We Always Lie To Strangers is the ironic title- - the film is chock-a-block with truthful exchanges by the participants. Mix in some great (and not so great!) musical breaks, and you have a hell of a good film to enjoy.

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