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Overall Rating

Awesome: 20%
Worth A Look53.33%
Average: 20%
Pretty Bad: 6.67%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 12 user ratings

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13 Conversations About One Thing
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by Collin Souter

"A little too self-aware, but worth seeing"
4 stars

In case the title didn’t give it away for you, “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing” fancies itself one smart little movie. It takes a group of characters, places them within three degrees of each other, then gives them some harsh life lessons on which to expound upon. It’s the second movie I’ve seen this year that uses title card chapter stops (in white-on-black Woody Allen font) in between scenes (one title card for every “conversation”), many of them along the lines of “Show me a happy man” and “Fortune smiles at some and laughs at others.” Yes, “Conversations” wants you to know exactly how smart and profound it can be.

Unfortunately, it knows itself a little too well. This movie will inevitably be compared to other mosaic masterpieces, such as “Magnolia,” “Grand Canyon” and Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Clearly, “Thirteen Conversations” takes inspiration from these three films and probably many others, but because it doesn’t try very hard to form its own personality, it comes up a bit short. Yet, in spite of its self-awareness, it remains a compelling and mostly involving film.

The four (or five or six) stories go as follows: The first, I guess, would be Matthew McConaughey’s story, which has him as a criminal defense attorney named Troy high on his most recent success. We know, of course, that a terrible accident will occur which will cause him to re-think his prospects and even bring about a crisis of conscious. The accident comes in the form of a hit-and-run, whereby he hits a young woman with his car.

The second story follows a physics professor named Walker (stereotypically cast John Turturro) who follows a daily routine until one day his wife (Amy Irving) learns of his affair. His new life on his own takes on another series of predictable routines. His wife, meanwhile, must try and figure out what to do with the house and all of his stuff.

The third story goes back to one of the other stories, in which a young house cleaner (Clea DuVall)gets hit by a car, which changes her personality in a way that her own best friend doesn’t quite recognize her anymore.

The last story, and the best one, has Alan Arkin as Gene, the grumpiest and most unlucky man alive. He runs an insurance office where one of his employees, Wade (William Wise), has nothing but honest to goodness good luck. Scratch that. Great luck! No matter what, they guy remains optimistic (His nickname is Smiley). Gene, whose son lives on the street and who keeps getting arrested for possession of drugs, can’t figure out the guy’s character. Gene becomes fixated on the idea of making Wade’s life miserable.

The Alan Arkin story works best, though, because it seals with issues that people who work for a living can easily identify with. Office politics (promotions, management and letting someone go) feel more vital in this movie than the conscience of a lawyer. It may not be “Glengarry Glen Ross,” but you’ll be able to relate to it when one character just might have won the lottery. Do you envy him or feel sorry for him? More importantly, would you make the same speech to your boss?

Turturro’s story feels oddly familiar, or maybe Turturro himself has been cast in this movie a few times before. For some reason, I am reminded of an underrated little movie made a few years ago entitled “Box of Moonlight,” (directed by Tom “Living In Oblivion” DiCillo) where Turturro played a man with a routine who suddenly decides to take a road trip and ends up in an unlikely friendship with a wacky teenager dressed like Davy Crockett. Here, Turturro must deal with a kid who wants to go to medical school, but can’t seem to get good grades.

All of the stories flow in and out of one another, and not in a linear fashion either. The movie works best when its dialogue comes from the gut and not from a daily horoscope. “Thirteen Conversations” tries to deal head-on with the world in which we live, yet forgets that most people in the real world don’t talk the way co-writer/director Jill Sprecher would like them to. The title cards come from dialogue either already heard in the film or that will be heard. “Ask yourself if you’re happy and you’ll cease to be so,” we are told again and again. Ironically, the title cards keep the film from flowing in and out of subjects the way a conversation normally would.

Still, I imagine some people who have never seen any of the above-mentioned films or who don’t normally attend movies such as these will probably find lots to talk about when the credits roll. “Thirteen Conversations” has the ability to hit the right person at the right time. It may not totally succeed at what it wants to be and it probably won’t set the indie world on fire, but it still deserves to be seen. I imagine that one’s reaction to the film won’t be so much of a critical nature. I imagine your reaction to it will be in relation to the kind of day you’re having. They say if you reach one person, well, that’s something. “Thirteen Conversations” will probably reach some people and, in turn, maybe even make the world a better place. We can hope.

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originally posted: 06/20/02 23:35:33
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2002 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2002 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/06/15 Anne doesn't make it 2 stars
8/15/04 Kacey The way it intertwined philosophy into everyday and wound back around amazes! 5 stars
7/14/03 JoNZ quietly lovely 5 stars
4/02/03 me great 5 stars
3/23/03 Doc Shock Boring... 2 stars
1/11/03 will that was very interesting, i'd like to see it again. 4 stars
1/10/03 TheBomb69 interesting character study, depressing as hell though 4 stars
9/26/02 marco guerra a really good piece of filmmaking with overall good acting 4 stars
9/07/02 Robert Pruter Probably the best film I have seen in the last five years. 5 stars
7/28/02 Regina Rosenstein philosophical 4 stars
6/27/02 Robert Pruter The best film I have seen in the last five year. "Clockwatchers" was another great film. 5 stars
6/22/02 gunter good stuff 5 stars
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  24-May-2002 (R)
  DVD: 19-Nov-2002

  17-Jun-2005 (15)

  02-Feb-2002 (M)

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