13 Conversations About One Thing features two Academy Award nominees, the star of one of this summer's potential blockbusters and an assortment of veteran character actors. This attests to one of the more remarkable excesses confronting American independent filmmakers -- the depth of acting talent available to films with no studio connections. Inspired by Bertrand Russell's The Conquest Of Happiness, director Jill Sprecher and her sister Karen have constructed a film whose characters glance off one another with unforeseen consequences: Alan Arkin's insurance claims adjustor, John Turturro's math professor, Clea DuVall's house cleaner, Matthew McConaughey's lawyer.
It bears some resemblance to P.T. Anderson's monumental study of coincidence, Magnolia, though Sprecher has nothing like Anderson's technical panache. In her favour, she only goes on about half as long with her disparate New Yorkers as Anderson does with his Angelenos.
In the Sprechers' film, the principals barely meet -- each is encased in his or her own story and, more intriguingly, his or her own timeline. Following parallel stories is a challenge once we realize that they're not all operating in the same time frame; narratives flash back and forward to past or present as the characters pass each other in the urban hustle of the city.
As the title suggests, it's an extremely chatty movie, with conversations in bars, bedrooms, kitchens and classrooms. If 13 Conversations doesn't exactly raise viewers' adrenaline levels, watching it at the height of the summer movie season constitutes an act of rebellion against expensive thrillers. It's also a very civilized way to use two hours of air conditioning. firstname.lastname@example.org
13 CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING directed by Jill Sprecher, written by Karen and Jill Sprecher, produced by Beni Tadd Atoori and Gina Resnick, with Matthew McConaughey, John Turturro, Amy Irving, Clea DuVall and Alan Arkin. 104 minutes. A Mongrel Media release. Opens Friday (July 5). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 77. Rating: NNN