Film review: Short Cuts (1993), directed by Robert Altman
In this Oscar-winning film, a bunch of different couples and/or families in Los Angeles are all interconnected somehow, and Short Cuts follow their lives over a few days, or a week or whatever it is.
The Finnigan couple (Andie MacDowell and Bruce Davison) have their son (Zane Cassidy) run over by Doreen (Lily Tomlin), a waitress at a diner where Stuart (Fred Ward) and his fishing buddies hang out, one of which is Mr Finnegan’s estranged father Paul (Jack Lemmon).
Dr Ralph Wyman (Matthew Modine) looks after the Finnigan child in the hospital. His wife Marian (Julianne Moore) is an artist. They meet Stuart and his wife Claire (Anne Archer) at a concert hall and invite them to a barbecue. Claire works as a clown, and gets hit on by policeman Gene Shepard (Tim Robbins).
Gene is having an affair with Betty (Frances McDormand). Her ex husband Stormy (Peter Gallagher) isn’t much of a dad to his son (Jarrett Lennon), but then neither is Gene – who is married to Sherri (Madeleine Stowe) with whom he has three loud kids and a yappy dog. Gene doesn’t want the dog in the house and gets so fed up with its barking that he takes the dog across town and dumps him there, because Gene is such a nice person.
Sherri models a little for Marian. Anyway. Doreen’s drunken husband Earl (Tom Waits) likes to hang out at a bar where he can listen to jazz singer Tess (Annie Ross). Tess’s cello-playing daughter Zoe (Lori Singer) is attention-seeking, pretending to drown in the swimming pool, which Jerry (Chris Penn) is fixing.
Jerry’s wife Lois (Jennifer Jason Leigh) works from home, answering calls on a sex chatline. Jerry isn’t happy about his wife talking dirty on the phone so other men can get their rocks off, but Lois sees it as a good source of income that allows her to spend time with the kids.
The couple are friends with makeup trainee Bill (Robert Downey Jr), whose wife Honey (Lili Taylor) is and Doreen and Earl’s daughter. Bill and Honey are house-sitting for a couple of neighbours who are out-of-town for a month … and because the other couple’s house is so nice they sort of move in, because that’s a great idea.
And that’s pretty much it, except two murders are gotten away with. Or maybe manslaughter is the correct term, as they weren’t premeditated but just sort of happened. The first one, I can’t believe the person didn’t even notify the police (as far as they knew, there was no negative outcome of the incident), and for the second I’m just disgusted it was explained away as the result of an earthquake.
The film might be called Short Cuts, but it’s excruciatingly long – about three hours and ten minutes. If it’s a film where lots of things happen, that’s fair enough, but when it’s a film about a bunch of Jeremy Kyle Show rejects leading their day-to-day lives, 190 minutes feel extremely long. I couldn’t watch it in a single sitting but had to break it up or I’d be bored to tears.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the cast list is impressive (indeed, it’s why I decided to watch it – also, it mentioned something about this being a “comedy”, but I fail to see how it was in any way amusing), and the acting fantastic. It’s just that it’s a slow-moving and, frankly, dull film that’s like a three-hour episode of a random soap opera. Really not my cup of tea at all.
The film begins with the whole area being sprayed with some kind of bug spray to get rid of some sort of fly, which sets a bit of a doomsday sort of tone to it all. Not that the bug-spraying has any real bearing on the plot, other than Stormy being one of the pilots doing it.
I thought Short Cuts would be a funny film with lots of actors I really enjoy, and it turned out to be a three-hour-long snoozefest with a bunch of people I wouldn’t give up my seat in a lifeboat for. Maybe if any of them had been sympathetic, but none of them were. Some came close at times, but for the most part, I was just waiting for it to end. Why didn’t I just give up watching? Because I like the actors, it’s a famous director and it was supposed to be a good film. It probably is a good film, technically speaking, but I couldn’t get into it. That is was so long made the pain worse, like trying to peel off a sticky plaster really slowly instead of ripping it off and have it over and done with.
If I “just don’t get it”, fine, I really don’t give a shit, to be honest. I watch films to be entertained, and to me this film was more depressing than entertaining, regardless of how well it might have been an insightful look into the human condition, or whatever. As far as I’m concerned it was a very long film about a bunch of unpleasant or whiny (often both) people who for the most part got what was coming to them.
2 out of 5 toothpicks, because the cast is the saving grace.