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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"Show me a happy man and I will show you a disaster waiting to happen."
DVD ReviewPatricia : What is it that you want?
Walker: To experience life, to wake up enthused, to be happy.
Within those simple lines of dialogue from Jill Sprecher’s extraordinary Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, one of the standout films of 2002, lies the central meaning of a film filled with possibilities. What makes us happy? Is it life, work, family, or even love? Or perhaps it is simply a state of mind that becomes skewered by those around us. Sprecher's sophomore film is remarkable in the way in which it examines both the pursuit of happiness as well as the search for meaning or redemption in one's life.
"Life only makes sense when you look at it backwards. Too bad we have to live it forwards." - Dick
The film is a collection of thirteen vignettes in which the characters discuss a singular subject: Happiness. For Troy (McConaughey), happiness lies in the fact that he has sent a guilty man to prison and is in line for a large promotion at the district attorney's office. Walter (Turturro) is a prominent physics professor at a New York College who, after having been mugged, sees a change in his life through a loveless affair with a fellow professor (Sokova). Patricia (Irving) is married to Walter and suspects his affair but says nothing of it, as she has grown accustomed to being alone. Beatrice (Duvall) tends to see the good in people even after a life threatening accident in which she was the unsuspecting victim. And finally there is Gene (Arkin), an office manager who has grown tired of having lacked happiness for so long, so tired that when he is forced to fire someone he chooses the happiest man in the office for the simple thrill of seeing him be upset by something.
On the flip side of these stories come the revelations seen in each one. After leaving the bar Troy hits someone with his car and leaves the scene of the accident after foreseeing the consequences that will come of his actions. His life becomes torn apart by guilt. Walter fails to find happiness in anything, including his affair as well as his marriage, both of which are crumbling under the stress of one another. Beatrice through it all still sees the good in people until her boss accuses her of a crime, and this mistrust causes her outlook to drastically change. Gene is dealing with familial issues as his son is a drug addict who is looking at a long prison sentence, while at the same time seeing his professional world crumbles because of his bleak outlook on life.
"You freed me from a life of predictability and routine. See you Thursday, same time." - Walter
Written by sisters Jill and Karen Sprecher, Thirteen Conversations... asks challenging questions and allows viewers to answer for themselves, rather than spoon feeding solutions through a nice and tidy resolution. It plays freely with the ideas of fate and happiness and asks what it is that brings us to the point in our lives where we encounter these emotions. For Troy, who is at the top of his career, it is a life-altering event, while for Gene, as well as Walter, it is the introduction of someone with conflicting emotions into their lives.
The stories are told in a circular manner, each is connecting to another through a seemingly random incident. Beginning with the end and ending with the beginning, Sprecher and editor Stephen Mirrione weave through the lives of the four central characters effortlessly; the cuts are never jarring and keep a steady emotional hold in their pacing of the film. The cinematography and production design provide an elegant backdrop to the proceedings as the deep earth tones of the interior locations portray the characters' emotions through their surroundings.
"You know what they say. Fortune smiles at some and laughs at others." -Gene
Aside from its fascinating premise and ingeniously constructed script, this film boasts some of the best acting performances of the year. Led by Alan Arkin, the cast effectively portray these characters and their emotions without a single low point amongst the ensemble. Arkin deserves award recognition for his portrayal of Gene, the pessimistic, sad sack office manager who is likely never to changed. It is simply a shame if Arkin is not remembered in awards season.
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing is a thought-provoking picture that is simply one of the best of this or any other year.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: Presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing looks adequate, though this is not the sort of pleasing transfer that is seen on the best DVDs. Colors too often look muted, which keeps from giving the transfer a film-like look. Sharpness and detail are done well, while I noticed no pixelation or edge enhancement. The largest fault that I could find with this transfer is that there seems to be a heavy amount of grain present.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is a rather mundane presentation in that there is little outside the center channel. Dialogue sounds fine and is easy to understand with no distortion. The score briefly comes to life in the left and right speakers, though the activity is sporadic.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring My Wife is an Actress, Sunshine State, Last Orders
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director/writer Jill Sprecher, writer Karen Sprecher, and editor Stephen Mirrionne
Extras Review: A commentary by writers Jill and Karen Sprecher and editor Stephen Mirrione leads off a small list of extra features. The commentary is wonderfully entertaining as the trio talk about locations and the actors, as well as the numerous financial hurdles that had to be jumped to simply get the film made. They're full of energy and their joy and exuberance in the track never fade. This is a terrific listen for fans of the film, as it is informative as well as loads of fun.
Trailers for Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, Sunshine State, Last Orders, and My Wife is an Actress are also included.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsHaving seen over one hundred movies so far in 2002, I am comfortable in saying that next to Minority Report, I don't envision seeing a better film than Thirteen Conversations About One Thing this year. It is a monument to both creativity and acting and deserves to be seen by everyone.
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