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13 Conversations About One Thing

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: 13 Conversations About One Thing

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, John Turturro
Director: Jill Sprecher
Rated: R
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: May 2002
Genre: Drama


*Also starring: Barbara Sukowa, Malcolm Gets, Frankie Faison, Clea Duvall, Amy Irving, Alan Arkin



Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

"Show me a happy man, and I'll show you a disaster waiting to happen," Gene (Alan Arkin), an unhappy Manhattan office worker tells a stranger at a bar. The stranger, an assistant district attorney named Troy (Matthew McConaughey), shares his own philosophies. A superconfident go-getter, he tells Gene that "luck is a lazy man's excuse."

13 CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING is directed by Jill Sprecher and written by Jill and Karen Sprecher. They are the creative team who last brought us the wonderfully acerbic gem, CLOCKWATCHERS, which I like to think of as an east coast version of OFFICE SPACE, one of my indie favorites. As writers, the Sprechers are able to capture the minutia and politics of the office world perfectly. Unlike their last film, however, this one is only partially set in an office. With several overlapping and intertwined stories, the best concerns Gene who is a manager in an office experiencing a bit of downsizing. Gene is especially suspicious and jealous of one of his employees who dares to be exuberantly happy every single day. "Smiley" is Gene's derogatory moniker for him.

Arkin is nothing less than terrific in every scene. And, although the director works hard to deliver an ensemble production, the movie quickly becomes a one-man show with Arkin stealing every scene that he's in. Moreover, when the action cuts to a story other than his, don't be surprised if you become a little disappointed. Why move the spotlight to the side ring, when the center ring is so fascinating?

The other stories include Troy's remorse over a hit-and-run accident that he caused and a professor's (John Turturro) loveless love affair. Amy Irving plays the professor's wife.

Unlike CLOCKWATCHERS, which was fast paced fun, 13 CONVERSATIONS is deliberately slow paced with lots of pregnant pauses and reflective, quiet moments. The dialog is sharp throughout, but too often it comes across as stagy and preachy with the movie feeling like a series of tableaux. Still, every line is carefully designed to make you think. (The movie's impact comes more through the words than the visuals, but be sure and watch for an ironic subway ad in the last scene.)

"Life only makes sense when you look at it backwards," Gene's best, and probably only, friend, tells him. "Too bad we have to live it forwards." Ah, so true.

13 CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING runs 1:34. It is rated R for "language and brief drug use" and would be acceptable for teenagers.

Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes

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