Thirteen Conversations About One Thing

Life tosses curve balls to a cross-section of New Yorkers, whose reactions range from serenity to self-destruction. Four different storylines occasionally overlap, and the fractured time scheme recalls PULP FICTION (1994), but where that film buzzed with juiced-up energy, this one glides calmly along to its quietly powerful end. A hotshot young lawyer, Troy...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Life tosses curve balls to a cross-section of New Yorkers, whose reactions range from serenity to self-destruction. Four different storylines occasionally overlap, and the fractured time scheme recalls PULP FICTION (1994), but where that film buzzed with juiced-up energy, this one glides calmly along to its quietly powerful end. A hotshot young lawyer, Troy (Matthew McConaughey), is on top of the world: He's just won an important case, and a promotion is imminent. Enjoying a celebratory drink with co-workers, he pooh-poohs a barfly's gloomy tale of a man who won the lottery and ruined his life. But on the drive back to his trendy SoHo loft, Troy accidentally mows down a pedestrian on a deserted side street, then flees the scene. On the Upper West Side, Professor Walker (John Turturro) is recovering from being mugged; though not badly hurt, his brush with random violence is profoundly unsettling. He snaps at students, embarks on an affair with a colleague (Barbara Sukowa), and begins drifting away from his wife (Amy Irving). Meanwhile, two young housekeepers, Beatrice (Clea DuVall) and Dorrie (Tia Texada), clean rich people's apartments and dream about their futures. Then Beatrice nearly dies in an accident and can't shake the dark cloud that eclipses her generally sunny outlook. Finally, in midtown, Gene (Alan Arkin) oversees an insurance office and obsesses about low-ranking, middle-aged employee Wade Bowman (William Wise), whose indomitable optimism strikes Gene as something verging on a personal affront. Wade lives paycheck to paycheck, but as far as he's concerned, life has favored him: His children are great, his wife sends him to work with delicious cookies and home-grown tomatoes to share with his office mates, his modest home is his castle. Gene seethes — in part because his son, Ronnie (Alex Burns), is a junkie, and his ex-wife has married a much-wealthier man — then uses the threat of company-wide layoffs to wipe that smile off Wade's face. Like French filmmaker Laurent Cantet, sisters Jill and Karen Sprecher (CLOCKWATCHERS) explore the workplace dynamics that shape and define people's lives. But they're also fascinated by fate's ability to change everything in an instant, without being suckers for cosmic jokes, smirking irony or cheap melodramatics. The film's characters drift in and out of the periphery of each other's lives in ways that are clever and often sad, but never just an arbitrary screenwriting gimmick. It starts slowly, but this contemplative drama's cumulative effect is genuinely haunting.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Review: Life tosses curve balls to a cross-section of New Yorkers, whose reactions range from serenity to self-destruction. Four different storylines occasionally overlap, and the fractured time scheme recalls PULP FICTION (1994), but where that film buzzed with j… (more)

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