Plot: What’s it about?
Like so many other movies of its type, 13 Conversations About One Thing has a variety of almost completely independent stories that are held together by a common thread. The closest, and most popular, reference that I can find would be Pulp Fiction. In that we have essentially three stories that somehow link to what’s going on in the entire movie and give us a clearer picture to understand the whole. Such is the case with this movie. The sisterly duo of Jill and Karen Sprecher have written (and Jill directed) a very unique film that goes beyond what it was supposed to be. Sure, it had movie stars in it, but what the stories were about is something that we can all relate to in everyday life. Odds are we have been fired (or know someone who has), cheated on their wife or husband, been injured in a freak accident and so on. But at the very center of this film is one of the most basic emotions and one that ties all of the stories together – happiness.
Yes, happiness is at the heart of the film and it’s conveyed rather quickly during the opening scene in which a college professor (John Turturro) and his wife go through the motions of having a seemingly harmless dinner. Routine is his life and we later find out that he’s having an affair with another college professor. Why, we ask? It would seem that even for a routine-oriented individual, that breaking that and having an affair might give him some satisfaction; however it does not. He opts to buy a BMW from someone who is selling it. That someone turns out to be a very successful lawyer (Matthew McConaughey) who we meet very early in the film. He has just won a big case, and being a District Attorney, he has just sent someone else away for life. "They broke the law" he says, …"he deserves to be punished". What he doesn’t know, however, is that on the way home from the bar, he hits an innocent person while pondering life. He flees the scene of the crime and knows what trouble he is in. His face is cut, and he won’t let it heal (both figuratively and literally). While talking at the bar, he meets a sad sack who mumbles on about the happiness of others (Alan Arkin) and it turns out that he’s a middle-manager at a local insurance firm. The company he works for is having troubles and he needs to lay someone off. He chooses the happiest man in the office, not because he’s the worst worker, but because of his positive outlook on life. The way he sees it, this will be the ultimate test to see if the man is putting on an act or if he truly is happy.
Lastly we have the story of a girl who cleans houses for a living. She’s generally happy, but has a friend who is more of a "realist". She believes in fate and, as it turns out, is injured in a near-fatal accident. She loses her job and her faith as well. Conversely, her friend tries to console her, but is concerned about her sudden change of attitude. The real "deal" with this film is like so many others of it’s genre. Like Sliding Doors, Me, Myself, I and Run, Lola, Run we can never tell what will happen. The film deals with fate and that’s something that none of us can change. Sometimes good things happen to good people and bad things to bad people and in any sort of that combination. The film is entertaining and works on several levels. I was highly pleased when the ending credits rolled (though the stories don’t seemed to be all wrapped up), it lets the audience decide what should happen. And I like that.
Video: How does it look?
If this film screams one thing, it’s "Independent Movie"! The film has the very look and feel of a documentary, but it’s not. Shot in a 1.78:1 ratio, it’s enhanced for widescreen televisions, but the scenes are more hit and miss than anything. Most of the colors are very muted, somewhat reflecting the mood of the movie. A lot of the shots are interior and some very visible grain is noticeable during some of the scenes. Then, some of the outdoor shots are almost crystal clear with an almost 3-D like quality to them. I’m not sure if the filmmakers had this in mind for the transition to DVD, but the look of the film is very inconsistent. While I applaud anything that has 16:9 enhancement, this isn’t the shining example that I thought and hoped it would be. Still, it isn’t unwatchable, but don’t expect a perfect transfer.
Audio: How does it sound?
There is a 5.1 track included on the disc, but as one might expect, it’s not the most active out there. Some gentle surround effects do add to the ambiance of some scenes, but there’s a lot of dialogue to digest and that takes most of the sound out of the surrounds and puts them into the center channel. The lack of action on screen also detracts from the fact that the sound, while clean and sharp, doesn’t do a whole lot. Again, this film is more independent in nature and most of these films aren’t known for their audio tracks (this isn’t Pearl Harbor, folks)!
Supplements: What are the extras?
Columbia, usually good for adding supplements, has included the original theatrical trailer as well as a director’s commentary track. The track is fairly decent, a lot more than I was hoping for. Some of the insights that I wrote in this review are as a result of the commentary. I encourage all who are interested in the film (and it’s hard not to be), to give this a listen as it’s full of insightful comments. The trailer is also included.