Starring: John Turturro, Clea DuVall, Alan Arkin, Matthew McConaughey
Directed by: Jill Sprecher
Rated: R for language and brief drug use.
Notes for Parents: This is a film most pre-teens will find uninteresting, although it isn’t particularly inappropriate for them. Indeed, “Thirteen Conversations” would make a great starting point for a long discussion with a more philosophically minded teen.
“Fortune smiles on some and laughs at others,” says one character in Jill (“Clockwatchers”) Sprecher’s new film “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing.” Pessimistic though he is, at times the film shows him to be right, destroying the happiness of some while making that of others indestructible.
Although there are moments of action, “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing” is just what it says it is; conversations about the same thing. The topic is happiness, its causes, nature, and perils. The film’s timeline is folded, and woven so that the different characters’ lives intersect in odd ways when we least expect them.
There’s the self-proclaimed happy man Troy (Matthew McConaughey), a criminal prosecutor who becomes consumed by guilt after a car accident. His buoyant, cocky happiness is shattered by a disaster. Shy housecleaner Beatrice (Clea DuVall), we find another kind of happiness: hers is quiet, simple, and based on a vision she had as a child when she nearly drowned. Then a series of events shatter her faith and several of her bones, leaving her questioning the meaning of it all.
Farther along the spectrum is physics professor Walker (John Turturro), who gives up contentedness in hopes of finding happiness, but loses everything instead.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Troy is Gene English (Alan Arkin), perpetually depressed, living a thoroughly unhappy life and working as an insurance claims adjuster. One of his subordinates, ‘Smiley’ Bowman (William Wise) is perpetually happy, no matter what happens to him. Gene gradually becomes obsessed with finding a way to wipe the smile off Smiley’s face.
“Thirteen Conversations” is a film full of dialog, but the long silences and the expressions on peoples’ faces often convey more than what their mouths are saying. It is not fast-paced, but rewards an attentive watcher; there are wonderful, terrible moments that make you say “ah-ha!” to yourself as you realize disaster has been averted or is inevitable.
Although the production is very simple (people just talking don’t require much in the way of special effects), the camerawork and composition are very elegant, creating suspense by keeping things off-screen and working unobtrusively to show us a version of post-September New York that is simultaneously empty and so small that people can’t help interacting with each other.
This is a film for people who enjoy listening to interesting conversations more than they enjoy watching things blow up. It is insightful and introspective without being preachy, and well worth seeing.