13 Conversations About One Thing

The 'one thing' in 13 Conversations About One Thing is happiness. More specifically, the search and definition of happiness. Writer/director Jill Sprecher (Clockwatchers) and co-writer Karen Sprecher (Clockwatchers) weave together four interconnected stories that meditate on the nature of happiness in a bleakly comedic way. The main similarity between most of the characters is that they are profoundly hurt people, physically and/or emotionally. Happiness is what they need. They recognize this, and are actively seeking some sort of happiness, but it is eluding them. Walker (John Turturro, Collateral Damage, Monkeybone) is a college professor cheating on his wife Patricia (Amy Irving, Traffic, Bossa Nova) with Helen (Barbara Sukowa, Urbania, The Third Miracle), a fellow professor. Walker and Helen's marriage is falling apart, and an altercation that leaves Walker with a black eye leaves him traumatized.

Troy (Matthew McConaughey, Frailty, The Wedding Planner) is a rising hotshot attorney who doesn't believe in luck. He attributes his success to his own skill. After an accident, his outlook on life changes profoundly. He cannot stop thinking about what happened, and this spills over to his work quality. Beatrice (Clea DuVall, Ghost of Mars, Committed) and Dorrie (Tia Texada, Glitter, Bait) are maids for a cleaning service. Dorrie admires Beatrice's ability to look at the bright side of things. Finally, in the funniest (and rudest) and most poignant story, Gene (Alan Arkin, America's Sweethearts, Arigo) is in middle management in the claims department of a large company. He is divorced, bitter, and overworked, and cannot fathom why Wade (William Wise, In the Bedroom, Went to Coney Island...), one of his employees is so optimistic. He can put a positive spin on anything.

The Sprecher's put the crux of their examination on one event, which changes the lives of many of the people involved. They infuse a surprising amount of delicacy in their script, mixing equal elements of humor with pathos. It also helps that they are using talented actors. The acting in 13 Conversations is subtle, and requires the actors to be able to display a variety of emotions by in an understated manner. DuVall, Turturro, and even McConaughey show admirable restraint, which helps even more since it comes across as their characters struggling to keep their emotions in check.

Arkin does the best job in 13 Conversations. His Gene is a man who sacrificed things along the way to achieve his position at work. He is obviously jealous of Wade, and this jealousy rears its ugly head in the form of insults and tests. He cannot believe that somebody who doesn't 'deserve' this happiness is actually happy, and wants to prove himself right. This comes through in his extremely cutting and sarcastic comments, which also bring to light how unhappy he is with his life. It seems that everybody except Gene has something going in their life. The Gene character is the personification of the essence of the movie. By the time the movie ends, Sprecher gives her take on what one needs to do to find happiness. In light of what some of these people went through, it is only partially believable. The bad thing is, it sometimes feels like something one writes just to end the movie.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 34 minutes, Rated R for language and brief drug use.

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