13 CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING
Directed by Jill Sprecher (2001)
One thing life teaches us quickly is to expect the unexpected. For example, in Jill Sprecher's 13 Conversations About One Thing, Troy (Matthew McConaughey), a rather self-important lawyer tells a depressed insurance adjuster how happy he is during Happy Hour at a local bar then, while driving home, he hits a young woman crossing the street and his life is changed forever. Ms. Sprecher, a Philosophy graduate from the University of Wisconsin, explores the experiences of four New Yorkers and how their lives intersect. Although films about how people's lives are interconnected have become something of a clich, Sprecher's film has a freshness that catapults it far above the ordinary.
One of the New Yorkers who is forced to confront "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" is a Physics professor (John Turturro). The professor knows that what works is to "wake up enthused, to experience life, to be happy" but cannot translate that into his experience. He is involved in an extra-marital affair with a fellow teacher (Barbara Sukowa) and is unable to connect with the suffering of his wife (Amy Irving) or a student who is depressed about his grades. The film, however, really belongs to veteran actor Alan Arkin who is completely believable as Gene, an aging insurance executive distraught by the breakup of his marriage and the travails of his drug addicted son.
At work he is increasingly annoyed by an employee named Wade (William Wise) who walks around with a smile on his face and does not let the exigencies of life get to him. To see how he will react, Gene fires him but that doesn't stop Wade from looking at the bright side. Realizing how bitter he is becoming, Gene quietly finds Wade another job without letting him know that he has pulled some strings. In another sequence, Beatrice, a young housecleaner (Clea DuVall) believes that we are guided since she had been miraculously saved in a near drowning incident as a child. Her faith is shaken to the core, however, after she is hit by the car of the young attorney and is accused of stealing a watch by a client she had grown to admire. To the dismay of her close friends who relied on her optimism, Beatrice now believes that things in life happen for no reason and we are powerless in the face of a random universe.
13 Conversations About One Thing ends up where it began, with a conversation between one who can only see the positive in life and the other, only the negative. During the course of the film, Ms. Sprecher examines life itself in all its ups and downs and its multifaceted contradictions. Although she does not preach or overtly put the experiences of her characters into context, it is clear that in her view there are no coincidences and that patterns emerge when we reflect from a distance on seemingly unconnected events. She depicts how the small things: the knowing smile of a stranger or the reaching out to others without asking anything in return can be among the most important ingredients in a happy life. Recently I said that the films I'm attracted to are those that are honest, intelligent, sensitive, and thought provoking. 13 Conversations About One Thing is a perfect example and I am looking forward to seeing it again.