Ask yourself if you're really happy and you might be surprised at what you find. Ask several people at various
points in their lives and you will get the premise behind "13 Conversations," a film that depicts the lives of 5
different individuals and their quest to find and comprehend the meaning of happiness.
We first get a glimpse of Walker's life, a physics professor whose life has been disrupted by an assault. But his
wife, Patricia, seems more concerned than he is. At the dinner table, the two can barely exchange a word. The whole
randomness of the event has brought to his attention his general unhappiness and boredom with his routine life. So, to
compensate, he starts an affair with one of the university secretaries. Eventually, however, he comes to realize that
even the affair itself becomes routine. Patricia, on the other hand, is well aware of the affair and contemplates
In another storyline, Troy is a hot shot attorney, out celebrating over a recent court victory. While ordering drinks at
a local bar, he is told by another barstool that happiness is not what it's cracked up to be. Troy mocks him, buys him a
drink, and returns to his party happier than ever. Yet, on his way home, his life is jolted after a hit and run
accident. Instead of calling the police, he panics and flees the scene. His impending deterioration then plays out like
a character in a novel by Dostoevsky.
Meanwhile, Beatrice, a young cleaning woman with an optimistic soul has her life and perspective completely
flipped upside down. A very concientious worker, she works for an untrusting client, who accuses her of
stealing. This, despite her careful attention to detail and willingness to go the extra mile to make her
clients happy. Her optimism and faith in human nature are then torn completely apart after a near fatal
Lastly, Gene is an office manager for an insurance company puzzled by one of his employee's strange behavior. It would
seem that Wade Bowman is always happy, no matter what the circumstance. This unusual amount of happiness even in bad
times, makes Gene crazy. He cannot understand how someone could be so happy and cheerful all the time. Thus, he pulls
out all the stops to make Wade unhappy, including firing him. When his attempts fail, he is stricken with guilt and must
find a way to make amends.
This is an intelligent film along the lines of Robert Altman's "Short Cuts," showing the effects of happiness
or the pursuit of happiness on various people with varying storylines, some of which are related and others
which are not. As random as real life, so too is the storytelling of "13 Conversations." But interestingly
enough, Jill Sprecher puts the pieces together in a way that is unconventional, yet flows with a greater
purpose. There is a sort of thoughtful randomness to the clips which makes for a delight to watch. We don't
see things in a chronological order per se, but rather an order in which makes the scenes more cohesive and
built around a particular idiom or saying. Such sayings are interjected throughout: "Once I knew a happy
man. His happiness was a curse;" "Fortune smiles on some and laughs at others," etc.
Is life really random or is there something greater that connects us all together? This film playfully wavers on
the meaning of true happiness, the notion of karma and luck, and the possibility of hope. It also hints at how
one single event can change another's life forever. The assault changes Walker's routine, Wade loses his job but
miraculously stumbles into another, Troy is living high off the hog until his car accident, and Beatrice has her
confidence shattered after her accident.
The film has several magnificent performances from Turturro, DuVall, and McConaughey. But, above all, this
is Alan Arkin's picture. Arkin plays the prototypical businessman: stern, self assured, and unhappy. His
presence resonates with the everyman and seems so effortless. In fact, it is his resentment of a happy
co-worker that brings out his true nature: a man who is willing to do anything to get rid of or ruin this
person's life. Much like Dr. Seuss' Grinch, Gene's best attempts at ruining Wade's happiness are ineffective.
And, after realizing his attempts are futile, guilt overwhelms him, his heart grows [2 sizes] and he finds that he
must secretly try and help the man he once tried to harm.
Like another one of Arkin's best pictures, "Glengarry Glen Ross," this film has the same ebb and flow. But unlike
"Glengarry," "13 Conversations" is not a competition or cutthroat look at life, but rather a statement about fate, the
choices we make, and how things are all connected. The fact that it takes place in New York City is even more
compelling because you may think that in a great metropolis, the chances of interconnectedness would be slim. Instead,
despite various trials and tribulations, we are shown that fate may be kind or cruel. One subtle event can be life
changing. And no matter what the time or place, there is always a glimmer of hope, sometimes when you least expect