A review of  13 Conversations About One Thing” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ***

Rating: R for language, adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes



This clever, loosely connected six-degrees-of-separation morality tale is a subtle but rocky obstacle course of mercurial emotion.

Painstakingly constructed yet doggedly low-key, director Jill Sprecher’s semi-autobiographical story speaks volumes about living life with a desire for fulfillment through happiness.  Gene (Alan Arkin), a veteran, middle-aged businessman, decides it’s time for an attitude overhaul when a cheerful co-worker rubs him too far the wrong way.  Up-and-coming deputy D.A. Troy (Matthew McConaughey) sees his bright future drastically altered as the result of a single, reckless act.  An optimistic young cleaning woman (Clea Duvall as Bea) buoys her struggling co-workers, but finds herself in need of hidden reservoirs of strength and enthusiasm to overcome a tragic accident.  Physics professor Walker (John Turturro) is cheating on his wife but incapable of finding elusive true love.

The ebb and flow of daily New York City life: often isolated and always chaotic.  With personal burdens to bear, each character faces the undeniable truths of fate.  How can we determine the effect we have on a passing stranger?  What if the simplest gesture can change the course of someone’s life?  The answer set out is a positive one, a fact fully realized by the unexpected experiences that reveal the precarious nature of the assumptions upon which the characters lives are based.

The non-linear narrative serves to entertain.  Past, present and future are combined together for a sit-up-and-take-notice flurry of storytelling. Performances are solid but shy of compelling, with the exception of the every-commanding screen presence of Arkin.

I’m a sucker for the fickle-hands-of-fate genre.  “13 Conversations” holds its goodwill close, but is relatively slow to come to the point. Cynics and optimists alike are prey to the burning question: are you happy?  Perhaps that is the point.