A few years ago, pop-culture pundits theorized that television was beginning to supersede cinema as both the central obsession of savvy Americans and the bastion of challenging entertainment. Consecutive mediocre seasons of ER may have slowed some of that TV-is-better momentum, but the debate still contains compelling unresolved issues. Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her, the writing and directing debut of Rodrigo García—son of Gabriel García Márquez and an accomplished camera operator and cinematographer—screened at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival to critical and audience acclaim, then garnered an award for García at Cannes two months later. But the film's backers couldn't secure a lucrative enough U.S. distribution deal and instead sold Things to Showtime, thereby assuring that the overwhelming majority of its viewers would experience it on television. Is this a grave disservice to a work of high cinematic quality, or the proper fate for a small-scale slice-of-life? Frankly, it's the latter, but that doesn't mean Things is diminished by the TV treatment. García's film consists of five vignettes, featuring Glenn Close as a doctor who consults a fortune teller to find out if a colleague likes her as much as she likes him, Holly Hunter as a pregnant bank manager who contemplates an abortion while trying to ignore the emptiness of her life, Kathy Baker as a single mother and children's-book author who becomes fascinated by a dwarfish neighbor, Calista Flockhart as a lesbian whose lover is dying of cancer, and Amy Brenneman as a detective who investigates a case of a suicide while her blind sister Cameron Diaz embarks on an affair with an untrustworthy man. As is the fashion for this sort of mosaic movie, characters overlap from story to story, but in an okay-this-is-all-taking-place-in-one-community way, not an oh-now-everything-makes-sense way. García apparently prefers ambiguity, implying all sorts of heavy backstory for each of his leads but leaving the details vague, and he lets his actresses carry the baggage in their performances alone. Collectively, Things is about the interior lives of women, but in such a modest fashion that the big screen might have been too outsized a venue for García's simple insights. Trapped under the glass of a TV screen, the examinations of desire and regret stay closer to home.
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