(2001)3.5Derek ArmstrongWriter/director Jill Sprecher attacked office politics and workday ennui with claws as sharp as a paper shredder in her promising debut, Clockwatchers. Those concerns are at the heart of her follow-up, 13 Conversations About One Thing, an ensemble piece whose most effective thread focuses on a claims adjuster (Alan Arkin) so flummoxed by the unflappable good mood of a co-worker, he has him downsized. The problem is that this is not enough to carry a whole film, so Sprecher expands her agenda through a series of incongruous supporting story lines about guilt, boredom, naïveté, spirituality, and poetic justice, to the point that it becomes an incapable treatise on the human condition. None of the plots really work, and obscured among them is what that "one thing" actually is. Separating the vignettes with title cards, Sprecher is shooting for somewhere between 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould and a micro version of an interweaving Robert Altman project. But it's too small to be as pretentious as it might sound, too flatly acted to make an impact, and too open-ended to resolve with any sense of ultimate clarity. The clashing of ideas through intelligent dialogue, implied if not actually promised, never emerges, leaving expectant independent movie fans hungering for at least "one thing" to sink their teeth into.
cast-crew for 13 Conversations About One Thing on AllMovie