by Marty Demarest

This film delivers exactly what it says it will: a lot of talk that's spread out over 13 scenes. However, since this is a low-budget movie that stars people like Alan Arkin and John Turturro, the thing they talk about isn't sex. In fact, sex, or any other form of human contact, hardly seems to have anything to do with the film's subject, which is happiness. But since this is a film that played at festivals instead of multiplexes, there isn't a lot of happiness to go around.

What there is an abundance of is clich & eacute;d dialogue. Characters avoid eye contact with one another and introspectively mutter lines like, "You set me free." The all-important "When can I see you again?" makes an appearance, as does "Life isn't fair." Lives aren't fair indeed -- particularly, it seems, the lives of boring college professors and young, starving cleaning people. If you're a moderately well-off attorney, as Matthew McConaughey is here, life isn't fair as long as you use a razor blade to keep opening the cut that you got when you hit a girl and fled the scene. Otherwise your life is just fine.

Despite the stagy talkiness and trite dialogue that writers Jill and Karen Sprecher have built their movie on, however, the story -- about a number of New Yorkers who experience life's ups and downs -- works. Director Jill Sprecher (who also made the delightful Clockwatchers) had the good sense to hire some quality actors and let the camera run until they were done with a scene. As a result, the most refreshing thing about 13 Conversations is that it manages to avoid the worst sort of clich & eacute;s. If this were a Hollywood film, we would no doubt have Michelle Pfeiffer's cheekbones emoting like mad, and be forced to contend with Russell Crowe grimacing his way through moral dilemmas as though he were chewing on some tough meat. Everything would work out in the end, and someone would learn that having "another chance" and "making the most of it" causes soaring music to play, which would be played again during the Oscars.

Here, perhaps, we learn that "ignorance is bliss," and that "it's all luck." But sometimes it's good to be reminded of that. At least it's true.

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Sat., Sept. 26, 12-8 p.m.
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