New York Stories

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing

Directed by Jill Sprecher

(Matthew McConaughey, Amy Irving, John Turturro, Clea DuVall, Alan Arkin)

R

 

 

 

“May you get what you want … and want what you get,” the glum Gene (Alan Arkin) warns yuppie prosecutor Troy (Matthew McConaughey), just one of many pearls of wisdom aired throughout director Jill Sprecher’s absorbing ensemble drama, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing. This is a film that takes stale cinematic issues such as loneliness, fate, and human connection and gives them a freshness young filmmakers like Sprecher ñ directing her first film since the 1997 feature Clockwatchers ñ revel in.

The film weaves an intricate cast of New York characters all facing turning points in their lives, and Sprecher’s non-linear narrative indirectly links the players to one another. We meet a college physics professor (John Turturro) whose wife (Amy Irving) is divorcing him, an ironic twist for a man who scribbles IRREVERSABILTY across his classroom blackboard. Troy gushes on about the morality of crime and punishment, only to see the tables turned when he smashes his BMW into a pedestrian. And Gene, a mid-level insurance claims investigator, can’t understand the constant happiness exuded by one of his underlings, Wade Bowman (William Wise), nicknamed Smiley due to the perpetual grin plastered across his face. “Happiness is a curse,” Gene quips.

It is Gene’s dilemma that piques our interest throughout the film, due in part to Sprecher’s philosophical language (written by the director and her sister, Karen Sprecher) and Arkin’s masterful portrayal of a man whose self-awareness both connects and repels him from the outside world. As in his performance in Mike Nichols’ Catch-22, Arkin exhibits a keen understanding of the character grappling with issues of uncontrollable circumstance, and we are treated to a fine-tuned performance from an actor with a remarkable grasp of his craft.

Though it may be tricky to decipher exactly what Sprecher is trying to convey here (is it that fate is the outcome of the choices we make?), a sober tone and deliberate pacing give the film a languid feel that nearly makes up for its ambiguity. And like her contemporaries ñ Christopher Nolan, Darren Aranofsky, Paul Thomas Anderson – Sprecher’s insights and cleverness reveal a gifted artist just starting to show us the full potential of her talents.

– Charlie Hobart

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing opens this Friday at the Uptown Theatre