Thirteen Conversations About One Thing Movie Review
In the intricate ensemble think-piece "Thirteen Conversations About One Thing," karma-fueled philosophical allegories revolve around contentment, resentfulness, self-fulfillment and other cinematic soul-food themes.
An intelligent, earnest, intimate film that drops the ball only when it pauses for blunt exposition to make sure you're getting its metaphysical point, this second effort from the writing-directing sisters Karen and Jill Sprechter ("Clockwatchers") consists of a knotted string of stories that are not necessarily profound or even all that memorable. But it's a movie with such realistic characters and humbly consequential performances that it leaves a subconscious impression nevertheless.
The interwoven vignettes imagined by the Sprechters begin with a punctilious, moth-eaten academic (John Turturro) leaving his wife (Amy Irving) after a mugging that leads him to decide he's been living an unsatisfying life. But soon he's even more frustrated because he hasn't a clue how to find that missing satisfaction.
The dryly sardonic Alan Arkin co-stars in another storyline as a miserable white-collar chump and barstool sermonizer who becomes obsessed with raining on the parade of a Pollyanna-ish co-worker who always looks for the bright side of everything -- even getting fired.
Arkin crosses paths in a pub with an over-zealous, self-satisfied criminal prosecutor (Matthew McConaughey) who becomes consumed by his own guilt over a hit-and-run accident he thinks may have been fatal.
Meanwhile, the girl he struck with his car -- an insecure introvert (Clea Duvall) with a make-ends-meet job cleaning rich people's houses -- has been getting through life on spiritual faith and optimistic perseverance until her philosophies are shattered along with her leg when McConaughey mows her down.
Director Jill Sprechter has an impressive command of the film's structure, which twists and turns as the narratives cross paths and the characters they encompass emit an undercurrent of uneasy entropy. All these lives are perceivably out of sync. Sprechter even expresses these themes visually in the form of claustrophobic cinematography. With the film taking place in Manhattan, some outdoor scenes are shot with wide-angle lenses to crowd the frame with the maximum amount of imposing architecture.
Yet despite its surface gloominess, "13 Conversations" is ultimately hopeful as it explores the human capacity for happiness and how people choose to accept it or dismiss it, grasp greedily for it or mistrust it, embrace it or envy it.
It's only the occasional, intrusive lines of dialogue reading like deliberate summations ("Maybe underneath it all we all want the same things," someone muses rhetorically) that keep the film from feeling like the enjoyably enigmatic philosophical cryptogram it clearly wants to be.