Robert Altman has made a bunch of movies that don’t follow conventional structures. Instead, the filmmaker presents us a gallery of characters who are not really related, and he lets them bump and mingle through the little things of life. This time, we’re in Los Angeles, as big helicopters are showering the city with bug spray to eliminate an epidemic of med flies. One of the pilots, played by Peter Gallagher, is caught in a messy divorce with his ex-wife (Frances McDormand), and he’s decided to get revenge in a rather immature way (you’ll see). Meanwhile, she’s sleeping with a cop, interpreted by Tim Robbins. He’s actually married with children, but he’s a lousy father and he’s constantly sleeping around. That doesn’t bother much his wife, who’s starting to just be amused (Madeleine Stowe) by her husband’s lame excuses. She even laughs about it with her sister (Julianne Moore), a painter who’s married to a surgeon (Matthew Modine). They’re a nice couple who have just invited a couple they don’t even know for dinner to be polite. So they’re expecting a visit from Claire the Clown (Anne Archer) and her husband, who will go on a fishing trip and bring back some fish for the meal, even though his buddies and him find a corpse in the lake.
Another pair of couples is hanging out at a jazz club. Chris Penn is a pool cleaner, and his wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) makes a living doing phone sex while cleaning the house and changing her kids’ diapers. The other couple is formed of make-up artist Robert Downey Junior and Lily Taylor, who’s fascinated by fishes and even buys some for her mom, played by Lily Tomlin. She herself is troubled, both by her constantly drunk but sweet boyfriend (Tom Waits) and because she hit a kid with her car. He’s the son of Andie McDowell and Bruce Davidson, who does editorial on TV. While in the hospital, he’s approached by his father (Jack Lemmon), whom he hasn’t seen in years, and the couple is also harassed by a baker (Lyle Lovett), who has reasons to be pissed at them but doesn’t realize how bad his timing is! Quite a cast of character, ey!
Personally, I found the film interesting and well put together, but I didn’t really get into it. Maybe it’s because I have yet to get stuck in a tiresome thirtysomething existence, between a dead-end job and an unexciting family life. Watching “Short Cuts”, I appreciated Robert Altman’s precise writing (based on Raymond Carver stories) and direction, and I enjoyed the all-star cast, but I just felt like an outside witness. Movies are supposed to grab you and make you forget you’re only watching a film. But watching this, I wasn’t bored but I wasn’t thrilled either. I believe this is supposed to be some sort of cynical comedy, but I didn’t find it funny. Actually, I found these characters and their small lives pretty sad. But don’t get me wrong! I still liked the picture, particularly the film noir feel of it, with the real cool jazz score and the constant smoking and drinking, and it’s impressive how Altman juggles all these little stories at the same time. And though the film lasts more than three hours, it always remains interesting, thanks to very good dialogue, great acting and a delicious scene in which Julianne Moore argues with her hubby while naked from the waist down. And if the movie’s take on human nature didn’t lift me up, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth thinking about. “Short Cuts” lacks the sharp satire and excitement of “The Player”, but it’s still a superior film.