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01.30.2003

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flick pick | 13 Conversations About One Thing 2002
Directed by: Jill Sprecher
Written by: Jill Sprecher, Karen Sprecher
Starring: Matthew McConnaghey, John Turturro, Clea DuVall, Alan Arkin
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: serious, witty
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5

Plot synopsis In a bustling city, strangers pass each other in the streets each day, unaware of the tiny coincidences that have connected, will connect, do connect, their seemingly disparate lives to people they don’t even know at all.  Troy, a handsome young district attorney, goes out for a celebratory drink with his work buddies after winning a conviction in a case. He’s just put a criminal behind bars; convinced that he’s working on the side of the moral right, Troy feels good about his life, happy in his success. A sad-sack middle-level manager at an insurance agency sits at the bar watching Troy, and the two share a brief conversation.  His name is Gene, and as he tells Troy, he doesn’t believe in happiness, certainly doesn’t buy the idea that a person ever deserves to be happy. Gene’s worked hard his whole life – dedicated years of his life to his company, only to find himself that he’s still under-appreciated by his bosses, that his wife has left him and remarried, and that his only son has become a junkie and petty thief. He’s miserable, and thinks everyone else would be too, if they could only see how capricious and unnecessarily cruel life can be. Troy disagrees, and buys Gene a drink in an attempt to cheer him up. But when he drives home later that evening, Troy inadvertently hits a young girl in a quiet back alley, the accident unseen by anyone else. In a moment of panic, he leaves the scene of the crime, but finds that the weight of his guilty conscience changes his whole life.  Meanwhile a cold-fish math professor is mugged one day, and takes the unfortunate accident as the impetus to change the self-perceived monotony of his life, while a naďve, kind young maid finds her sunny outlook on life suddenly shattered.

Review The “one thing” at the core of Jill Sprecher’s elegantly-conceived, beautifully-acted philoso-drama is nothing short of that universal human goal: happiness. While John Turturro’s physics professor wrecks his life because he doesn’t know how to be happy, Matthew McConnaghey’s hotshot young attorney finds his illusion of happiness destroyed by a single stroke of bad luck. The sad, sad life of Alan Arkin’s insurance agent is such a long string of unhappy events that he’s convinced happiness doesn’t exist at all.  Then there’s Clea Duvall’s sweetly beatific maid, who’s happy without realizing it, until a terrible accident and the cynicism of someone she cares about makes her wonder whether she was stupid to have ever thought that the world was a good and beautiful place to be. Happiness, it seems, is a strange thing: the more you try and pinpoint what defines it, the harder it seems to be to attain. Those who spend their lives seeking it frequently find that their pursuit just pushes them further from the goal. The fortunate few who have happiness in spades don’t always seem to deserve it or appreciate it – or when they do see how happy they are, then the guilt sinks in. After all, in an intricately interconnected world, it does sometimes seem like there’s just a finite amount of happiness allowed at any given time, and that one lucky jerk’s gift of happiness has a tendency to result in some poor bastard’s happiness being smashed to bits. External  circumstance, the whims of fate, chance encounters – each conspires to bring little moments of goodness and misery into our lives in a way that’s often completely out of our control, and yet, we constantly find ourselves looking inwards for a solution to the un/happiness dilemma. It’s one of those things where if you have to ask yourself whether you’re happy, the answer, more often than not, is no. But does the asking of the question mean you’re unhappy already, or does any happiness you might already possess disappear once you look too closely at it?  Does happiness even exist, and if it does, is it something that’s earned? Though it’s lovely to see how the various plotlines tie together in the end, the cool thing about 13 Conversations ... is that it brings up a zillion and one questions about happiness and humanity, but lets you think about the answers for yourself. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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