Things You Can Tell
Just by Looking at Her

directed by Rodrigo Garcia
(MGM, 2000)

The title is a lengthy one: Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her. The answer is brief: Not much -- unless you're paying close attention.

Written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, Things You Can Tell is, at its heart, a series of five separate vignettes featuring women at crossroads. The crossroad of parenthood. The crossroad of love. The crossroad of a child on the brink of adulthood. Of a lover dying. Of loneliness.

It's time for each woman to assess the decisions she's made, to figure out how she got where she is, to determine where she's going from here. Each of them has a connection -- to a girlfriend, a parent, a lover -- that's seen, and each of the stories is, unknowingly to them, connected to one of the others. But each of the women, whether living alone or with someone, is alone at this moment. It's an interesting concept. And Things You Can Tell carries some powerful, heartbreaking performances.

Glenn Close is a doctor who cares for her senile mother while pining for a man who doesn't love her in return. Dr. Keener has her cards read by Christine (Calista Flockhart), who leaves Dr. Keener's house and goes home to care for her dying lover, Lilly (Valeria Golino).

Dr. Keener's efficiency and detachment is appreciated by Rebecca (Holly Hunter), an ambitious bank executive who comes to her for an abortion she's sure she wants -- until she has it. The baby is her longtime lover's, but Rebecca's not past having a one-night stand with a co-worker once she discovers the pregnancy.

That co-worker also romances Carol (Cameron Diaz), a blind teacher hired to help his blind daughter. Carol's determinedly sexy shell hides a loneliness that's only rivaled by that of her sister, Kathy (Amy Brenneman), a police detective who's investigating the suicide of a woman she knew half a lifetime ago.

The final part of the anthology is the life of Rose (Kathy Baker), a divorced mother whose teen-age son is both a good friend and a stranger in her son's body. Her son has dropped a bombshell that makes it clear that, while he still needs her as "Mom," those days may be numbered. She still inhales his breath, secretively, as if he's a sleeping child. What will she do when he no longer needs her daily?

Tying all of them together is the suicidal woman, who passes on the perimeter of all their lives.

Individually, the stories are affecting. Told via stylized soliloquy, long conversations or short bursts of sudden realization, the vignettes feel more like a play than a film.

What ultimately weakens Things You Can Tell is that I never got the feeling that, if the women knew of their connection, their decisions would be any different, that it would be enough to reach across the chasm of their separate lives. They may be interconnected, but it's not enough. Still, as an anthology of individuals, it's a concept worth pursuing.

[ by Jen Kopf ]
Rambles: 23 February 2002

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