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The patchwork quilt of others’ lives
That covers us and those we meet
Can swaddle us or smother us
Depending on the way we treat
The people in our sphere.

If those you knew or cared to love
Could see your thoughts, your worst mistake,
The way you act in panic’s vice,
I wonder what façade would break
And where you’d go from here.

MPA rating: R (strong R for language and nudity)

Oh, look it’s March. Might be a good time to, I don’t know, finally get back to reviewing my Blindspots from last year! I can’t wait for school to be done later this year, but I’ll probably just shorten my reviews so the blog doesn’t go dead for another month.

Anyway, there are few things as disappointing as a movie you feel you ought to like but just don’t. Robert Altman’s Short Cuts is very much my style of movie. I love watching how individual lives intersect, how chance encounters can influence the bigger picture. It’s one of the many reasons I loved Lost and admire films like Ink, Cloud Atlas, and The Five People You Meet in Heaven. With some reservations, 2019’s Blindspot Twenty Bucks fulfilled the expectations I had for Short Cuts in 2020, which sadly failed to satisfy by enjoyment of cosmic connections this time around.

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Ultimately, every film needs to have a story worth telling and characters worth watching, and no amount of admirable filmmaking or even a star-studded cast can fill that need. A lot happens in Short Cuts but also not nearly enough. Based on the short stories and poems of Raymond Carver, the story is an expansive snapshot of numerous lives throughout the Los Angeles area, played by a who’s who of recognizable ’90s faces. There’s Robert Downey, Jr., as a smarmy makeup artist, Lily Tomlin as an exasperated waitress, Andie MacDowell as a young mother, Matthew Modine as a doctor, Julianne Moore as his artistic wife, Frances McDormand as Peter Gallagher’s philandering wife, Tim Robbins as her cop lover, Jack Lemmon as Bruce Davison’s estranged father, and many more, including Tom Waits, Anne Archer, Lori Singer, Chris Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Fred Ward, and Lili Taylor. In light of the passing of Alex Trebek (whom I still grieve, as a lifelong Jeopardy fan), I was also delighted to see him in a brief cameo.

It truly is an astounding cast, all of whom are wholly believable in their roles. It’s just a shame that most of them play crude, vindictive jerks with the morals of cats. In the world of this film, infidelity is more common than marriage, and empathy is rare, all of which carries enough realism to lower one’s opinion of society in general. Beyond this, Altman’s film seems queasily enamored of sex and female nudity, from Leigh’s graphic phone sex calls to an admittedly well-acted lovers’ quarrel which would have been less distracting had Julianne Moore been wearing more than just a top. Of the 22 main characters, I’d say there are only two that remain sympathetic throughout, meaning most of the 3-hour film focuses on the others, and I believe that several of the side stories could have been trimmed to reduce the excessive runtime.

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All that is not to say Short Cuts is without merit. I was actually impressed with how balanced the treatment of the characters was, switching between them often enough to give almost everyone in the expansive ensemble a memorable moment or two. Yet the jumping around between stories also doesn’t get overly confusing, and the artful direction weaves the stories together with subtle but identifiable connections, which is an impressive feat. However, the film ultimately falls into the “That’s It?” category, with the credits rolling before most of the intersecting storylines get even a semblance of closure. After over 3 hours with people I would not care to know personally, the bathetic conclusion settles for its status as a collage of experiences rather than offering any clear point. I realize everyday vignettes can be very compelling and endearing and don’t necessarily need an overarching purpose, but I suppose my distaste for much of the film’s content has soured my opinion of its storytelling as well. Unless the plot warrants ambiguity, I like my stories to have endings, not vague implications.

Rank: Dishonorable Mention

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