Picture a very mainstream group of New Yorkers who don’t necessarily know each other but are all on the quest for something bigger than themselves. They are people who pass one another in busy streets; they are co-workers; they are strangers. They are Everyman and Everywoman who seemingly manage their lives well at first glance but are actually balancing personal acceptance and rejection at every turn. Of the 13 individuals we meet Walker (John Turturro) and Patricia (Amy Irving) are a married couple trying to be in love without talking about it; Troy (Matthew McConaughey) is a morality-centered lawyer until he drives home drunk; and Gene (Alan Arkin) is a hardworking salesman whose climb up the corporate ladder negatively affects his familial relationships. Each individual is at a crossroads; they all must determine their worth based on their core values. Their stories are unique yet universal as they embark upon the soul-wrenching question “if only.”
While Matthew McConaughey adds the big-name lure to the film don’t expect him to be the star of the show. Since there are so many stories being told each of the actors gets a fair amount of screen time. McConaughey (Troy) does deliver a quality performance however. His educated ambitious character fits the handsome actor who frighteningly reveals his tragic side when he fails to practice what he preaches. Kudos to Clea Duvall (Beatrice) the young housecleaner who makes dusting seem like a fairy’s art. She is gentle and natural on-screen leading her co-worker (and the audience) to believe in an ideal world–until both bone-breaking and heart-breaking experiences leave her bitter. John Turturro‘s obsessive-compulsive introvert is shifty and irritating in a successful way–he’s perfect as the nerdy genius who just can’t hold on to a good thing. Alan Arkin (Gene) certainly holds his own as the grump who believes happiness is a curse but it is only William Wise (Wade) whose eternal optimism shines alone foiling every other character in the film. His silly smile is unbelievable at first then it turns into something refreshingly sincere.
This is the second film Jill Sprecher has directed and co-written with her sister Karen Sprecher. Non-linear the film weaves in and out of various storylines allowing the audience to peek into pivotal moments of individuals’ lives. Similar techniques have been implemented in films like Traffic Magnolia and Pulp Fiction. The film is also broken up into chapter-like sections; each could stand on its own becoming like a movie within a movie. The chapters are titled with phrases like “Wisdom comes suddenly ” “Ignorance is bliss” and “Show me a happy man.” Color and season also play intricately in this film. Dowdy green walls suffocate the couple in marital trouble (green is also the color of jealousy); dingy brown and yellow office furniture reminds us Gene’s office is a depressing place to spend a bustling New York day; and moments of pure joy are attached to the white shirt the autumn wind blows from Beatrice’s arms.