If aliens came down to earth to see if humanity was worth saving, showing them Short Cuts
, Robert Altman's bluesy riff on life in LA in the 90s, would not be a good idea. Based on the stories of Raymond Carver (adapted by Altman and Frank Barhydt), this ambitious film is a devilish valentine to living in LA, where happiness comes at a premium. There are at least eight separate stories that crisscross, most about people who choose not to relate to the lives they are living. Seemingly by design, none of the stories (nor the performances for that matter) have more impact than the others--this is a true mosaic film. The most representative plot deals with a group of friends (Buck Henry, Fred Ward, and Huey Lewis) who decide to keep fishing even after discovering a body in the river. The story works as a morose comedy and a flag holder for the movie: the inability to take the correct action. Others would rather talk about seeing Alex Trebek than discuss their faltering relationships. A huge and talented cast twists in the wind, bumping into moments of truth, sex and passion. Some even come out all right in the end. The accidental nature of life--a common theme in many Altman films--has never been so maddeningly persistent nor so absorbing. The score by Mark Isham with songs sung by Annie Ross (also a cast member) fuels the moodiness, as does the opening number in which Medfly helicopters spray the town to the tune "Prisoner of Life." Delivering the film a year after his biggest hit in two decades, The Player
, Altman proved his artistic tenacity as an aged artist with the heart of a new filmmaker: he's not afraid at risking it all. --Doug Thomas
Robert Altman's surburban epic, set in Los Angeles and with twenty-two principal characters, is an elaborate construction which seeks to interweave all of their lives in variously symbolic ways and thus paint a grand canvas of modern urban living with all the attendant alienation, frustration and bitterness. Lois is a phone-sex operator, her husband Jerry a swimming pool cleaner to Ann, the wife of a TV star, Howard, and the mother of Casey who is hit by a car driven by Doreen, who is a waitress married to Earl. Jerry also cleans the pool of jazz singer Tess, mother of cellist Zoe who flips when she hears of Casey's death. At Casey's deathbed in hospital is the long-lost father of Howard, and Dr Wyman, the sexually jealous husband of Marian, who is sister of Sherri, wife of an adulterous cop Gene who's cheating with Betty, ex-wife to Stormy, and so on.