Nine short stories relocating the settings from Carver's Northwest to Los Angeles during a spraying of malathion brought on by a Medfly epidemic - intercut tales of disconnection and emotional emptiness. The stories concern variations upon the theme of Los Angeles angst --a happily married couple, Ann and Howard have to deal with the deep emotions felt when their child, Casey is struck by a car before his birthday and lapses into a coma, while the baker Andy of their child's neglected birthday cake sinks into a rage and torments them in their grief. Three men Stuart, Gordon and Vern leave on a much anticipated fishing trip, only to discover the drowned body of a nude woman floating in the river and decide to finish their fishing trip and ignore the corpse. A Los Angeles cop, Gene uses his badge as an excuse to cheat on his wife, Sherri. A pool cleaner Jerry resents his wife, Lois for her part-time job as a phone sex performer. A waitress, Doreen is devoted to her limousine driver ...Written by
When Altman is good he's among the greatest, and SHORT CUTS is among his best (M*A*S*H, BREWSTER McCLOUD, NASHVILLE). Adapted from Raymond Carver's collection of stories, SHORT CUTS offers a roving, restless glimpse into the lives of several Los Angelinos. The characters aren't completely real - in an 'I-can-relate-to-these-people' sense (I never expected this from this movie anyway), but are presented in a slightly hyperreal sense with Altman highlighting the everyday lives of characters who try valiantly to maintain their public personas (cutting across class boundaries in the process), even when things are spinning out of control beneath the surface (literally symbolized by the ending, though at least he didn't stoop to throwing in a rain of frogs...).
Los Angeles is famously mocked as a place that's all surface and no depth (see ANNIE HALL), and the slight exaggerations seen here characters plays with this, even as the isolation and instability of certain characters humanizes them. Through it all there's plenty of humor - though, as is usual with Altman, even the humor packs a wallop. Annie Ross' deadpan complaint gets to the heart of it all: "I hate L.A. - all they do is snort coke and talk." The irony in such nastiness becomes a bit more apparent when you consider where that assessment is coming from, within Altman's tragi-comic variant upon the notion that California's trends become America's truisms a decade or two down the road.
There are so many great moments here - Chris Penn's growing befuddlement (and seething, simmering murderous anger) with his wife's phone sex operator job; Tom Waits and Lily Tomlin as a boozy working class couple; Peter Gallagher and Frances MacDormand's marriage, collapsed into tantrums and furniture vandalism; the Tim Robbins/Huey Lewis confrontation; Jack Lemmon, Julianne Moore and Matthew Modine all deliver strikingly memorable performances. Every time I watch this, I get something new out of it - though it requires a bit of patience, SHORT CUTS is really worth checking out.
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