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'True Stories' (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 07, 1986

"True Stories" is an "Our Town" for our time, a slightly surreal portrait of the fictional frontier village of Virgil, Texas, sprung from a pancake landscape and hogtied with freeways.

Talking Head-liner David Bryne writes, directs and plays the Narrator, a sweet soul who holds this satiric collage of music and tabloid tales together. Basically, it's the National Inquirer dramatized, a cartoonish tribute to the kind of rugged individual who regularly rides in UFOs.

Byrne links the lives of such Virgilians as the Laziest Woman in the World (Swoozie Kurtz as a perky agoraphobe who never gets out of bed), the Lying Woman (Jo Harvey Allen as a blue-collar babe who has been with the real Rambo and claims to have written "Billie Jean"), and the Culvers (Spalding Gray and Annie McEnroe as happily-marrieds who haven't spoken to each other in several decades).

If there is a leading man, it's John Goodman as Louis Fyne, a lovable good ol' boy with a "Wife Wanted" sign planted on the lawn of his tract home. Goodman's is the only multi-dimensional character, and his performance is so sincere and sweet-natured that you wish you could fix him up with a friend.

The Head man himself, however, makes the show. He is an unmistakable tenderfoot, with his 10-gallon hat and computer-screen green cowboy suit. In his peppy red convertible, he drives Virgil's freeways --"cathedrals of our time" -- happily observing the prefab scenery and the all-American oddballs. Driving past a naked new tract development, he quips, "Who can say it isn't beautiful?

"When I see a place for the first time, I notice everything -- the color of the paper, the sky, the way people walk, doorknobs, every detail," says the Narrator.

No longer a full-time angst-monger, Byrne is as bullish on America as Toyota, crazy for those open skies, amber waves, Astroturf. Fans of "Stop Making Sense" and Byrne's more cerebral music will be disappointed with this lightweight work. (The cinemusician readily admits that "True Stories" is about "stuff that's too dumb for people to have bothered to formulate opinions on." Stuff like paper umbrellas in fruit drinks.)

Formica nostalgia is nothing new, actually -- and lampooning shopping malls is even more banal than going to one. Byrne, whose experience has been minimalist stage and music videos, creates a trendy, minimal America. The avant-garde has found the middle of the road.

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