You’re So Cool: Looking Back On ‘True Romance’ 20 Years Later

Why Do People Still Care About True Romance? Let Us Count The Reasons…

I recently attended the first annual True Romance Fest in Burbank, and I’ll have more on that soon, but first, I thought it was worth trying to explain: what is it about a movie that makes people love it enough to devote an entire festival to it, two decades after the fact, especially one that doesn’t involve aliens or ray guns like the usual cult cosplay fodder? I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you why I went, and what I learned from re-watching it three or four times in the course of a weekend.

Some Context

Released a little less than 21 years ago, True Romance was the first script Quentin Tarantino wrote to end up getting made (Reservoir Dogs came out earlier, but Tarantino had written the script for True Romance first), and one of the few films he wrote that he didn’t direct (Tony Scott apparently loved both scripts, and Tarantino told Scott he could direct one). As a budding film nerd turned on by Pulp Fiction, I remember buying a double book of the scripts for True Romance and Reservoir Dogs at Tower Records, my all-time favorite junior high hang spot.

It was probably the first time I thought about a movie beyond “awesome!” or “meh,” and seeing it on the page laid bare all of those odd Tarantino-isms I might otherwise have missed. Stuff like “everything from a diddle-eyed Joe to a damned if a I know,” and guys named “Toothpick Vic” (a henchmen in True Romance and a nickname for Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs) and “Lance” (Eric Stoltz in Pulp Fiction and Clarence’s unseen boss in True Romance).

Rough Draft Tarantino

What jumped out at me most and still does now is how strongly Tarantino the writer comes through without Tarantino the director there to soften him. Have you ever written something, thought it was finished, and then, just when you were about to send it out, ended up re-writing it 10 more times? Just putting yourself in the brain space of someone experiencing your work for the first time forces you to imagine yourself how others might see you. Even if you’ve already spent weeks working and reworking something, you find yourself ironing out all the rough edges that were, strangely, invisible until five seconds earlier. I imagine directing your own script is like that. Tarantino the director normally gets to keep tweaking Tarantino the writer. While Tony Scott certainly had some tweaks of his own (making the non-linear narrative linear, giving it a happier ending), more so than any other Tarantino movie, True Romance feels like rough draft Tarantino, his tics and urges and idiosyncrasies on screen with the least filtering. Even without trunk shots or the camera lingering on women’s feet, it’s hard not to feel like you know way too much about Quentin Tarantino after seeing True Romance.

Clarence Worley, Tarantino’s Idealized Id

True Romance is so much more bizarrely fascinating when you realize that Clarence Worley is all of Quentin’s favorite things about himself cranked up to 11, like Jim Carrey in The Mask. It’s not a wild assertion here, by the way, it’d be obvious that Clarence Worley is QT’s stand-in, even if Tarantino hadn’t confirmed as much himself (“Clarence was me,” he says here).