We Always Lie to Strangers Directed by A.J. Schnack and David Wilson June 20 at noon at National Portrait Gallery and June 21 at 3:45 p.m. at AFI Silver

You know Branson, Mo.—the Vegas of the Ozarks, Biloxi without the Gulf, a self-styled “live music capital of the world” that’s a far cry from Montreux, Glastonbury, or Carnegie Hall. We Always Lie to Strangers, from directors A.J. Schnack and David Wilson, is an affectionate Branson portrait that perhaps (like many of the townsfolk) tries to be too many things at once: a behind-the-curtains look at a bustling but embattled showbiz hub; an oral history of the town’s founding families; a tacit reproof of homophobia in a small town. We Always Lie is also a study in civil dynamics, as Schnack and Wilson pit Branson’s actual population (around 10,000) alongside the 7.5 million tourists who visit each year. For instance: Given that dozens of troupes are performing at any time, there’s a sizeable gay population among the nonitinerant variety shows of Branson, met with the reflexive distrust of various townspeople. (Raeanne Presley, the Republican mayor, is mum on gay rights but withering when it comes to the “stimulus”; one can nearly feel the scare quotes descend when she utters those three syllables.) Couples of various persuasions meet or dissolve, showbiz dreams are made and crushed, and the history of the Presley family (no relation to Elvis)—the founding entertainers of Branson—unfolds with the pathos and absurdity of Waiting for Guffman. The film, at nearly two hours, drags in the third act, but its most moving passage may be the 11th-hour breakup of an almost-too-likeable gay couple—all the more moving because that kind of grief (unlike gambling) must remain an open but painful secret in Branson.

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