I knew almost nothing about this going in it, an ignorance I’m trying to maintain for these challenge films as much as possible. Turns out it’s an ensemble piece with interlocking stories, a narrative structure that I pretty nearly always enjoy, and this was no exception.

The major stories follow Troy (Matthew McConaughey), a cocky lawyer whose confidence is shaken when he runs over a woman with his car, Beatrice (Clea Duvall), the young woman he hits who goes through a crisis of her own in recovery, Gene (Alan Arkin), an insurance manager dealing with a delinquent son and an overly cheerful coworker, and Walker (John Turturro), a physics professor going through a midlife crisis and a failing marriage.


I love seeing how disparate stories interconnect with each other in movies like this, and one minor thing I really enjoyed about this one was that you eventually discover that not all the stories are concurrent – when we first see Gene chatting with Troy at a bar, he tells him about something that we won’t actually see happen until later in the movie. It’s a fun variation on the template that Gene’s story is actually a flashback.

The “one thing” of the title is basically happiness – very few of the people in the film have it, some desperately want it, some have it and then lose it. Most of the film is conversation, as various characters negotiate their situation, try to figure out how they got into it, and how to make the best of it – or else fall into despair. Not all the stories are as interesting as the others – I like Clea Duvall and was pleased to see her here, but her story was fairly forgettable to me. Troy’s was mostly depressing. I liked Gene’s story the best, and not insignificantly, Alan Arkin is also very watchable and very funny, with a dry humor that does actually fit the downbeat tone of the film.


I enjoyed the philosophising, the acting, and the narrative structure, but I think ultimately all the stories had a bit too much dreariness for me to truly love the film.

Stats and stuff…

2001, USA
directed by Jill Sprecher, written by Jill and Karen Sprecher
starring Matthew McConaughey, Alan Arkin, John Turturro, Clea Duvall

I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Thirteen Conversations About One thing entered my chart:

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing > Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing < The Great Gatsby (2013)
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing > My Man Godfrey (1936)
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing > Under the Skin
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing < Christmas in July
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing < High Fidelity
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing < The Art of Skiing
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing < The Last Temptation of Christ
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing > A Grand Day Out
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing < 49 Up
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing < Dr. No
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing < Way Down East

Final ranking #1122 out of 3617 films on my chart (69%)

It is now my #1 Jill Sprecher film, my #4 Matthew McConaughey film, my #5 Alan Arkin film, my #5 John Turturro film, my #26 Urban Drama, and my #19 film of 2001.

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing was recommended by Andy Nelson, a friend from the Flickcharters group on Facebook.

A few quotes…

Patricia: What is it that you want?
Walker: What everyone wants. To experience life. To wake up enthused. To be happy.

Gene: Show me a happy man, I’ll show you a disaster waiting to happen.

Troy: Luck is a lazy man’s excuse.
Gene: Sounds like a guy who’s had nothing but luck.

Walker: Why do you want to be a doctor?
Student: So I can help people.
Walker: Why? Prolong their life today so they can live on in misery tomorrow?