Robert Altman’s sprawling, epic-length adaptation of various unrelated Raymond Carver writings is a foundational drama for me. When I first discovered it about 20 years ago in high school, I was completely mesmerized by it: From the long tracking shots to the overlapping dialogue to the focused, relaxed acting, it opened my eyes to the possibility of dramas as a viable source of entertainment (I had previously found most dramas to be too tedious). Make no mistake, there’s no real ‘story’ to be found here: It’s mostly about the interconnected lives of a variety of residents in and around Los Angeles with a very loose thread of urban medfly population control happening over the city, and how the human experience is predicated and proscribed by an inescapable fear of death. Among such an enormous cast, it’s hard to pick out my favorites because every single cast member is doing some career-best work: There’s Jack Lemmon delivering a one-scene monologue that could have earned him an Oscar, there’s Lili Taylor sauntering through scenes palpably in character, there’s Andie MacDowell doing some hair-raisingly believable footwork as a suburban mother facing a nightmare, there’s Julianne Moore doing an ice-queen routine that lets loose like a boiling kettle, etc. The list goes on and on, and virtually every actor here could have earned themselves an Oscar nomination, it’s just that kind of movie. You could watch it ten times in a row and focus on a different performance each time, and have an emotionally rewarding experience with every viewing. It’s by no means an optimistic movie (in fact, it’s borderline nihilistic in its passive condemnation of hypocrisy and selfishness) but it’s one that provokes vivid emotional responses in the viewer while making its case for consideration as one of the best, most meaningful and impactful movies of the 1990s.
Rating: ★★★★★ (out of 5)