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13 Conversations About One Thing
Time Out says
The cinematic trick of presenting parallel but briefly colliding narratives – separate lives that fleetingly cross paths on screen – already feels like a cliché of recent American film. Robert Altman performed this bluff brilliantly (à la Raymond Carver) with ‘Short Cuts’, as did Paul Thomas Anderson (à la Altman) with ‘Magnolia’. But if there’s one approach you can be guaranteed to encounter these days at the Sundance Film Festival (where this latest, relatively smart incarnation of the device premiered back in 2002), it’s the pivotal car crash that kills the man who was actually your long-lost brother who was on his way to introduce himself to you and your husband who (deep breath) is already having a fucked-up affair with your long-lost brother… Sundance even opened with such a contrived film this year: Don Loos’ ‘Happy Endings’.Structural déjà vu aside (and, yes, there’s a pivotal car crash here too), this is a modest, intelligent meditation on the search for happiness that eschews clumsy narrative quirks and harbours a credible, pleasing misanthrope. The setting is New York. There’s Gene English (Alan Arkin, reprising his excellent sad-sack salesman act of ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’), who is a middle manager at an insurance firm and suffers a junkie son and a dislike of other’s people’s contentment. There’s Troy (Matthew McConaughey), a smug attorney, who loftily ribs Gene in a bar before running over a stranger on the way home, throwing his smugness into sharp relief. And there’s Walker (John Turturro), a maths professor who is prompted by a mugging to leave his wife and move into a bedsit with his lover. It’s entertaining, well-written, slice-of-life stuff, but I’d rather spend 90 minutes with one of these stories than flit between several in a manner that does little to illuminate any of them.