Dir. Don Roos. 2005. R. 130mins. Lisa Kudrow, Steve Coogan, Laura Dern, Tom Arnold, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Ritter.
It's tempting to roll one's eyes at the idea of another large-cast, multistory drama set in Southern California (is there some sort of Altman virus plaguing L.A.?). But director Roos makes that well-worn template fresh and powerful again with his ten—count 'em, ten—intertwining stories. The tales center around a sadly screwed-up Kudrow, who gave up a baby for adoption as a teen, and her gay stepbrother Coogan, who runs a restaurant. Holding it all together is Roos's use of omniscient onscreen titles to provide background information, which initially seems like a crutch, but then slowly comes around to work as a subtle counterpoint to the images.
As he did in The Opposite of Sex, Roos gets a terrific performance out of Kudrow, whose charming surface neuroses barely conceal deep pain. In fact, everyone involved is at the top of his or her game, including Gyllenhaal in an unsympathetic role as a scheming gold digger, Ritter as a young gay man afraid to come out and Arnold (yes, that Tom Arnold), who's shockingly good as Ritter's lonely widowed father.
Roos, who also wrote the screenplay, has the daring to treat hot-button issues in nondoctrinaire ways, as when Kudrow's pro-choice character nonetheless urges a pregnant woman to consider what an abortion could cost her. It's just one of at least a dozen moments in a movie that astonishes with its emotional power.—Heather Shouse