Wednesday, 1st January 2003, 5:10am
An opinion by: Nette

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing by Jill Sprecher

I love to see films made by good female auteurs that are touted as "intelligent", because I nearly always enjoy them. Smart grrls, step up here. So the biggest surprise for me in this film was that there were so many middle aged men featured prominently. I mean, I went dashing out to see this movie because of the wonderful "Clockwatchers" that these sisters made a few years ago, a very biting and funny examination of the pink collar ghetto. Watching Alan Arkin fretting sullenly was not exactly what I expected, although I did get into it in a detached kind of way.

In the way that one hesitates when reading a biography of a woman written by a man, I was conscious of trying to suspend my disbelief. There were a few moments here and there when the men were bantering when the pace was a bit ... unreal? Not quite mannish? Echoes of something unfamiliar, seen from the outside.

Thirteen Conversations is a meditation on the pursuit of happiness among a diverse of group of New Yorkers. Now, this part, this New York life, is very well done. I could just smell the steam heat while watching the existential angst in urban apartments and dusty offices. And as I recall, this is EXACTLY how I felt when I lived in Manhattan, regularly watching people dash by, wondering why they were all being so horrible to one another and what was it all for?? These characters have no qualms about being really mean-spirited and self-absorbed ... although inevitably guilt rips them apart.

With the various lightly intertwined stories I had expected more in the way of illumination. However, the shifts and turns of the narrative are intelligent. I was feeling frazzled and confused when I arrived at the cinema, emerged feeling smug that my life was less stressed than any in the film. So it was good for that - however, not a movie to see when you need optimism to radiate and embrace you. Best as voyeuristic tourism - New York after September 11th. Nice cast, and Matthew McConaughey looks like a young Paul Newman, right on.

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