popular cinematic desire and sentiment, the “one thing” in the
title is not in any way, shape or form, sexually related.
Nor is it, as Curly stated in the dreadful City Slickers
sequel, gold. Defining
simply what it is, isn’t really possible.
In it’s purest form, it’s happiness, but thanks to
director Jill Sprecher’s philosophically based, multi-layered
depiction, and screenplay (along with sister Karen), the
search for and definition of said happiness is a bumpy,
complicated road, full of hurdles, complications, and the twists
and turns that fate has laid out for us.
This is not a film for the light hearted filmgoer, nor is
it one for the closed minded, there is a lot more going on in this
film than just conversation, but everything is relayed via the
words, actions and reactions of the characters.
Sprecher’s choice to use the non-linear storytelling
style (ala Pulp Fiction) is not necessarily inspired by
said film, but rather a convenient, and necessary method of
delivering the movie’s message with its strongest impact.
This is a film you will want to, and should see, several
times, and also should think about, and review your own life, in
the context of the characters and the decisions and actions shown.
not really about a specifically defined story, but rather an
exploration of characters lives, based upon traumatic events that
have caused them to reexamine where they stand in the grand
scheme. Like Fiction,
and Amores Perros, the characters from the stories, at first
seemingly unrelated, intersect with each other in a very natural
and believable manner. We
are all victims of our decisions and reactions to other people in
our lives. Fate has
laid the groundwork, and predetermined certain aspects of our
lives, but it is our choice as to where things go from their.
Ms Sprecher, a student of not only cinematic history, but
philosophy as well, shows both influences very boldly and
realistically, in her depictions.
The movie starts with Turturro, a mugging victim and
physics professor, who has cracked under the pressure of a life
spent living teetering on the edge of happiness.
His marriage is crumbling, he’s having an affair with a
fellow teacher, and cracks down on his students in an apparent
retaliation for not being able to find or define his happiness.
McConaughey is a hotshot lawyer who has just won a big
case, and is celebrating at a bar.
While there, he encounters an tired, slightly embittered
insurance adjustor (Arkin, in the best role he’s ever done) who
offers some sage advice about happiness “Show me a happy man,
and I’ll show you a disaster waiting to happen” he tells the
young lawyer, and sure enough, he waxed prophetically.
On his way home, the attorney is involved in a hit and run
pedestrian accident, that seems to eat and tear away at his
already fragile moral fiber.
Meanwhile, the young girl he hits, Duvall, is a dreamy eyed
housekeeper, who suddenly begins to find the happiness in her
life, after having her eyes opened from being so close to death.
Each of these
people represent the millions of people wandering through life in
search of answers, hoping they will just fall right into their
laps, rather than actually doing something about it.
Their lives are perched precariously on the precipice of
collapse, needing only some kind of influence to push it one way
or the other. Conversations
explores what happens, when the characters are given a revelatory
occurrence, and how their lives change after that.
Sprecher has an amazing talent for capturing the deeper
emotional side of everyday life, as she did in her debut film, the
underrated office classic, Clockwatchers.
As in that film, she uses drab surroundings, contrasted
with explosions of color, to reflect the varying emotions of these
peoples lives. Her
interactions of characters in differing aspects of a similar
plight, intersecting, and reacting with each other, is reminiscent
of Altman’s Short Cuts, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia,
mixed together with a hint of Todd Solondz.
In fact, many may compare this film to Solondz disturbing
dark comedy Happiness (Sprecher, in fact, stated a bit of
hesitancy upon hearing about Solondz film and it’s premise), but
she does what he couldn’t, deals with the subject matter of the
search for bliss, and the cause and effects of actions, with a
meticulously brutal touch, and without the shock value.
She simply lets the characters words and insights resonate
in your mind, and lets your imagination play with what she
doesn’t show you. She definitely deserves her placement amongst the great
independent film directors (like Solondz, Egoyan, and Arronofsky)
and gives an emotional, but harshly truthful look at the
complexity of dealing with the search for something that should be
so simple. What lies
behind that smiling face that you see on the street.
Is that person really happy? Do we really just wander
blindly through life, sometimes not even realizing the effect that
the littlest thing can have on someone else’s life. It’s not always the big things that change us, but the
little things that come about as a result, and this film reflects
that to near perfection. A
simple wave, a gentle smile, a passing hello on the street, can
sometimes hold more power than we realize.
Sprecher reflects both aspects, big and small, through her
characters. I could go on about the depths, the realizations, and the
deeper meanings of this movie (which is also held together by
different titled sections, usually quotes from the characters,
such as “Show me a happy man” or “18 Inches of personal
space” but this is a film to be seen, talked about, examined,
and then seen again to truly appreciate its complexities.
Sprecher uses the gentlest touch to deliver the harshest messages,
of loneliness (through a passing glance at a stranger on the
street), of common bonding amongst kindred souls who don't know
they are (through a simple wave on a train) and through life's
fitting ironies (through the use of Turturro's reaction to a
student's drastic measures). These are the signs of a
confident, intellectual, determined filmmaker.
contemporaries, Altman, PT Anderson and Woody Allen, Sprecher
shows a very deft touch at not only balancing a large cast,
without becoming excessive or distracting, but also at eliciting
the career best performances from some underacheivers or
underappreciateds. As I stated above, this is arguably the
best work that Arkin has ever done. As the story's pained,
conflicted and emotional protagonist, Arkin shows his prototype
nervous instability, combined with a simmering that frustration
that comes out in subtle actions, calm looks and monotones,
similar to his role in Glengarry Glen Ross. He have never
been better utilized and if this one doesn't garner his third
Oscar nod, if not his first win, then the Academy may need to
rethink their evaluation procedures. This film is nearly
cursed with being out so early, but I beg them to remember
it. McConaughey is starting to finally overcome his pretty
boy image, and take some more daring roles which showcase the
potential that so many have been waiting for. He has
harnessed his good looks and confidant swagger, but also mixed in
a darker, troubled side which oozes painfully from his eyes and
makes us nearly cringe in relation as we see and feel what his
character does. DuVall's energy and positive outlook even
amidst the bleakest of futures, and Turturro's anal retentive,
know-it-all pessimism delivered to near monotone perfection,
subtly, but effectively set the film's mood and hammer home the
point. Together, they all meld, yet conflict to show a slice
of society that does not have a simple resolution, as life often
doesn't, but also gives a brutally realistic perspective on the
neverending quest for internal, external, and eternal bliss.
Conversations is an intricate puzzle and solution, reflective of
the basic human struggle to find and understand what happiness is,
as seen through the eyes of several seemingly tortured souls. With
this film, Sprecher laughs in the face of the sophomore jinx that
befalls many directors after achieving critical acclaim (as she
did in the love it/hate it dark office comedy, Clockwatchers).
She stays true to her vision, rooted both in philosophy and
love of the art of cinema, to create an intricate societal
portrait that relates to more of us than we care to admit.
Sprecher, a fellow Midwesterner, has stated that this movie
sprung from an idea based around Arkin’s character, and his
protagonist, a perpetually happy person.
He seemed to have it all figured out, and to paraphrase
Monty Python, always looked on the bright side of life. Arkin was
not only jealous of that, but also introspective about his own
bliss, and fighting to keep his sanity during the journey to find
it. Adding in some
personal experiences, she and Karen have pieced together a
masterpiece of social observation.
This is a film that should be seen by every person who ever
complains about their life, or is trying to keep up the Jones’s,
or is wondering what it takes to be happy, or even makes
assumptions that those who seem to have it all, really don’t,
and those who seem to have very little, may actually be the
richest of all. Each character represents a different aspect, a different
battle of the same war. Have
we as a people become so disconnected, that we’ve forgotten that
happiness may indeed be found in the most unexpected places and
ways? Do we walk around, hustling and bustling to get by,
sleepwalking through a routine, then bemoaning when our lives go
nowhere? If any of
these ring true, then maybe you should take careful notes during
this film. Sprecher’s
keen social observation, yet again, is a philosophical commentary
on the simplicity of life, the complication of human emotion and
the clarification that can come in unexpected packages
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