THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING
Do Unto Others
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Clea
Duvall, Alan Arkin, John
Turturro, Tia Texada, Amy
Irving, Frankie Faison,
William Wise, and Shawn
Audience: Older teenagers and adults
Rating: R for some language and brief
Runtime: 102 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Jill Sprecher
Executive Producer: Michael Stipe, Sandy Stem,
Doug Mankoff, Andrew
Spaulding, Peter Wetherell,
James Burke, and Heidi Crane
Producer: Beni Atoori and Gina Resnick
Writer: Karen Sprecher and Jill
Address Comments To:Michael Barker, Tom Bernard & Marcie Bloom
Sony Pictures Classics
550 Madison Avenue, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10022
Web Page: www.spe.sony.com
An ensemble piece, THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS is a treatise on happiness. As such, it suggests that one of the best ways to happiness is to do good things for other people. Doing a good thing can be as simple and easy as smiling at a stranger.
Basically, the story of THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS focuses on a series of dialogues between people, interspersed with a couple of monologues. Invariably, one person in the dialogue will have an optimistic outlook on life while the second person will express a pessimistic one.
The three pessimistic people in the story are John Turturro as a science professor who's cheating on his wife, a young cleaning woman named Dorrie played by Tia Texada and Alan Arkin as Gene, the sour manager of a small insurance claims office at a big corporation that's losing money.
Dorrie works with another young woman, a Presbyterian named Beatrice. Beatrice has a very sunny outlook on life, but, while trying to do a good deed for a male client who attracts her, she gets hit by a car driven by a young hotshot attorney named Troy, played by Matthew McConaughey. Thinking he's killed the woman, Troy leaves the scene of the accident.
Earlier that evening, Troy, who had just won an important case, had a conversation with sour Gene at the bar where Troy was celebrating with his colleagues. Gene advises Troy not to be so happy, that fate can step in and crush Troy's happiness at a moment's notice. After hitting Beatrice, Troy becomes wracked by guilt and tries to bury himself in his work.
Back at work, Gene becomes increasingly annoyed at one of his employees, a constantly happy man named Wade, played by William Wise. No matter how bad things get, Wade always has a positive attitude and a smile on his face. He even says “Thank the Lord” at one point. All of this irks the older Gene to no end, because Gene is a hard-working, lonely and divorced man, whose estranged son is a heroin junkie and a criminal.
After complaining several times to another employee (played by Frankie Faison), Gene decides to teach Wade a lesson by downsizing him to make the budget cuts his boss has requested. After Wade leaves, however, Gene keeps running into him, but Wade still has the optimistic disposition that Gene hates. Like Troy, Gene also becomes wracked by guilt. He decides to set things right with Wade.
Meanwhile, after recovering from her accident and learning the client could care less about her, Beatrice expresses thoughts of suicide to Dorrie. You were right, she tells Dorrie, life isn't fair. Later, however, in a positive, well-written scene, Beatrice tells Dorrie how a simple smile from a stranger led her to give up such negative, immoral thoughts. Thus, Beatrice has taken to heart her pastor's reference to James 5:11 of the Bible, which says, "We count them happy who endure."
Finally, the science professor learns that the grass does not seem to be so green on the other side. Then, in the movie's final shot, the science professor's wife, played by Amy Irving, finds her spirits lifted as a reformed Gene smiles and waves back at her.
THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS is edited like the acclaimed violent thriller PULP FICTION, with scenes weaving in and out of time. This technique brilliantly manages to keep viewers engaged with the story. It also serves to highlight the movie's funny parts, which consist mostly of Alan Arkin as Gene doing a slow burn while William Wise's Wade uses a smile to get through the day. Thus, if someone gets bored with one story, they can watch the other stories unfold, or they can become thoroughly engrossed and entertained by the War of Wills between Gene and Wade. Arkin seriously deserves an Academy Award nomination for his performance here.
The shots with Beatrice singing in her church choir, her pastor quoting James 5:11, Wade's acknowledgement of God, and the movie's morally uplifting tone give THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS a Christian worldview. As Bible readers should know, joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22). As Bible readers should also know, Jesus Christ tells us in Matthew 7:12, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS tells us that giving joy to others by fulfilling the Golden Rule of Christ is the best way to happiness, in this life if not in the next.
Regrettably, however, this movie contains some strong foul language and a scene where Gene's estranged son injects himself with heroin. Consequently, it's a movie meant for older teenagers and adults.
THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS has a Christian worldview and is a biblical treatise on happiness, which suggests that one of the best ways to happiness is to bring joy to other people by doing good things for them. This can be as simple and easy as smiling at a stranger, the filmmakers propose. Despite some strong foul language and a minor scene where the criminal son injects heroin into his veins, THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS is enjoyable to watch. One of the best parts is Alan Arkin's wonderfully comic performance as the insurance claims manager, a pessimist irritated by the sunny disposition of one of his employees