There is probably no filmmaker alive who is more expert at capturing the pulse of a community than Robert Altman. He examined the world of country music in “Nashville” with humor & affection and the motion picture industry with savagery and wit in “The Player”. Now, in “Short Cuts”, he casts a dark gaze at the sunny world of Los Angeles where sex is plentiful and joyless, where wrongful death is taken for granted and where love never ever hits the right target.
Despite the superficial milk-and-honey surroundings, the Los Angeles of “Short Cuts” is a bleak landscape, populated by losers waiting for Armageddon. There is Jennifer Jason Leigh's wonderfully drawn white trash housewife who feeds her baby while paying the bills with phone sex. There is the idiotic mother played with feeling by Andie MacDowell who insists that her child not speak to strangers, but allows him to slip into a coma after a serious head injury. There are three good old boys (Fred Ward, Buck Henry & Huey Lewis) who continue to fish at their favourite watering hole after discovering the dead body of a young woman. There is the estranged grandfather played to the hilt by Jack Lemmon who tells wildly inappropriate stories of his past escapades in a hospital waiting room. There are the two jerks played by Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Penn who look for women to ravish while on a picnic with their wives and kids. There is the doctor (Matthew Modine) and his wife (Julianne Moore) who make much ado about nothing (her long ago drunken indiscretion) and then hiss at each other over a game of Jeopardy and a hot tub with another couple. And that's just for starters.
For 187 minutes, Altman weaves his way through nine different plot threads and through it all, nothing, nothing, nothing is anyone's fault. If someone dug up “Short Cuts” out of a time capsule in 500 years, it might be like watching the last days of Pompeii. Anne Archer as Fred Ward's wife goes through a temporary transformation where you think, "Oh, my God, is SOMEONE in this movie actually going to give a damn about someone else?" But the transformation is over in a flash and she dutifully joins her husband for barbecued fish and that hot tub. Lily Tomlin's hit-run driver rationalises her mistake. Annie Ross dismisses her suicidal daughter one too many times. Tim Robbins' character ditches the family dog, then tears it away from the new owners. Lyle Lovett feeds muffins to Andie MacDowell after harassing her on the phone over an unpaid bill while her son is dying.
In “Short Cuts”, the sun sparkles brightly on the dark ugliness of a world where a game show host like Alex Trebek is God and only an 8.6 earthquake can put everyone out of their misery. Until then, courtesy of Robert Altman, it's hard to tear our eyes away from the ants under the rock.
© 2006 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 2/1/06
USA - 1993