Dir. Rodrigo García. 2005. R. 115mins. Robin Wright Penn, Jason Isaacs, Amy Brenneman, Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Aidan Quinn.
Recent overwrought duds like Heights and Crash had us praying we'd never see another sprawling ensemble piece patterned after Short Cuts and Magnolia. But with this set of loosely interlocking vignettes about nine women confronting various life crises, writer-director García (Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her) proves that a low-concept actor's showcase starring half the members of the Screen Actors Guild can still be a worthwhile enterprise.
In the best of these brief, dialogue-driven segments, a pregnant woman (Penn) runs across an old lover (Isaacs) in a supermarket. Both are now married, but unfinished business between them quickly turns their breezy catch-up conversation into a mutually traumatic baring of souls. Like every other chapter in the movie, the episode is filmed in a single take, and it's the one chapter whose emotional texture is radically enhanced by this slightly showy technical stricture.
Other vignettes concern a mother behind bars desperate to earn early release through good behavior (Elpidia Carrillo), a cancer victim being prepped for a mastectomy (Kathy Baker) and a middle-aged wife (Sissy Spacek) about to cheat on her paraplegic husband (Ian McShane) at a hot-sheets motel. The episodes are not all created equal, but even the lesser ones are compelling, while the best yield dramatic satisfactions way out of proportion to their size.—Cliff Doerksen