Extraordinary little movie
Matthew Horner | USA | 03/16/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"One evening in the spring of 2000, I was at the movies and saw a poster for Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her. What an interesting title, I thought. And what a cast! I put the movie on my mental list of ones I planned to see. It never played at that theater. It never played in any theater in North America, although it was released in Europe, South America and Japan. Instead, it was sold to a big cable TV movie channel. MGM decided that it was too small a film for American audiences. I think their decision was unfortunate. Many movies intended for a limited audience have successful theatrical runs, and as so-called small movies go, this is an awfully big one. I hope it finds the audience it deserves on video.Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her does not have a conventional plot. It is five stories or vignettes loosely tied together. As the title implies, they are about women. In the first one, Glenn Close plays a doctor who is successful in her professional life but not in her personal oen. Her rather cold exterior masks the fact that she is starved for affection. It is Close's best role in years. Next we meet Rebecca [Holly Hunter], a bank manager on the edge of forty, whose almost casual decision to have an abortion leads to unexpected emotional complications. There is Rose [Kathy Baker], a single Mom who writes children's books and who does her best at raising her precocious fifteen year old son. She finds herself attracted to her new next-door neighbor, a smart and confident guy who just happens to be a dwarf. Christie [Calista Flockheart] and Lilly [Valeria Golino] are lovers facing one of life's toughest battles. Finally, there is the tale of Carol [Cameron Diaz], a blind woman who understands and 'sees' life much more clearly than her repressed sister, Kathy [Amy Brenneman].None of these stories may sound like much, but the success of a story always lies in its telling. Director Rodrigo Garcia is a master story teller. He never lets the movie drift into melodrama. The characters and the subject matters could easily lend themselves to titillation and to cheap thrills, but in the hands of this masterful director, we see these characters simply as people doing the best they know how to do despite their handicaps, both physical and emotional. This movie is very human, and that's fairly rare these days. The cast, of course, is a remarkable group of actors. It is amazing to see them all together in one movie. What truly impressed me was the fact that all of them seems to have outdone themselves. While some of their roles are not large, I cannot think of an instance in which any of them have given a better performance. For acting buffs, the film is a rare treat.When we refer to a movie as small, I think we generally mean one that does not get the adrenaline flowing. If so, Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her certainly fits the description. Anyone addicted to explosions, car chases and pumped up characters mindlessly spewing profanities will want to avoid this one. Those who like a little heart and soul, not to mention some intelligence, in their movies should find this one to be a rare treat."
Powerful, Introspective Drama
Reviewer | 08/04/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A sensitive and incisive episodic drama that examines loneliness and need, emotional vulnerability and the true meaning of character, "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her," written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, presents a glimpse into the lives of seven women that is not only thoughtful, but filled with some real insights into human nature. Though the stories are independent and unrelated, the film demonstrates how the lives of people can and do overlap, and whether or not they affect one another in any way, there are things these individuals have in common that have to do with relationships or the lack thereof, and is seemingly steeped in pain, despair, indecisiveness and longing. It's a dialogue driven character study that may be the antithesis of a feel-good film, but it's riveting drama that is extremely well presented and acted, and most importantly it is very real and believable and will certainly contain elements to which just about anyone in the audience will be able to relate and identify, because they are so true-to-life. What you see in this film may not be entirely pleasant, but it provides some thought-provoking, reflective moments that are in some cases veritably transporting, and many that are bound to hit very close to home for many viewers. Garcia seems to have a firm grasp of the female perspective and sensibility, and presents the stories of these women in a way that allows you to empathize with all of them on a number of different levels. And he wisely offsets the drama by infusing a bit of tasteful humor at just the right moments, bittersweet though it may be; without it, the film would have been just too dark, and as it is, it hovers dangerously close to the cusp of the abyss, as he layers one disconcerting situation upon another with little respite. It may sound like strong stuff, and it is; but it does what a film like this is supposed to do: It makes you "feel" something, consider some things and enables you to possibly come to terms with some emotions that otherwise you may be wont to avoid altogether. In the end, then, it makes for a truly satisfying and fulfilling experience. Garcia put together a terrific ensemble cast to tell his story, which resulted in a number of exemplary performances, most notably by Cameron Diaz, who plays Carol, a blind woman who refuses to acquiesce to the constant compromises life offers her. She displays a fortitude that is inspiring and demonstrates that real vision, as well as true beauty, transcends the physical. In her darkness, she sees and understands the world more clearly than many who see perfectly but are blind in other ways, and though in the care of her sister, Kathy (Amy Brenneman), it is she who enables Kathy to finally get a grasp on her own life. It's a wonderful performance by Diaz, who continues to prove that she is so much more than just another pretty face up there on the screen. Another memorable performance is turned in by Kathy Baker, as Rose, the single mother of a fifteen-year-old son, Jay (Noah Fleiss), who is a woman of true inner beauty. Rose is a former teacher who now writes children's storybooks, whom Baker instills with qualities that make her endearing and very real, including the capacity to look beyond herself and reach out to others, which in turn makes that necessary connection with the audience and predisposes the emotional involvement that makes her story so poignant and honest. There's a gentleness that Baker brings to this role, and an openness, that makes it one of the best she's ever done. Notable performances are given, as well, by Glenn Close, as Dr. Elaine Keener, who has recently arrived at something of a crossroads in her life; Calista Flockhart, as Christine, a fortune teller whose own future with her girlfriend, Lilly (Valeria Golino) is clouded; and Holly Hunter, as Rebecca, a thirty-nine-year-old bank manager coping with the emptiness in her life brought about by, in retrospect, some questionable decisions she's made. It is rare, in fact, to find so many singularly exceptional performances in a motion picture. The supporting cast includes Matt Craven (Walter), Gregory Hines (Robert), Miguel Sandoval (Sam), Danny Woodburn (Albert) and Penelope Allen (Nancy). Engrossing drama, delivered with integrity and subtle nuance by Garcia and his impeccable cast, "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her" in an introspective treatise on life and the many aspects of it that are common, but rarely shared because of the fact that so many people live, as Carol says at one point, "Behind closed doors." It's a powerful film that makes a real impact without ever hitting you over the head with the weight of it's collective angst. And it's an important film in that it will make you think and consider-- things that are too often put off or ignored entirely, and often to the detriment of personal happiness; and when the medium of the filmmaker can maybe turn that around, it demonstrates what the magic of the movies is really all about."
Lush, Real, Significant.
Julie Jordan Scott | Bakersfield, CA United States | 02/05/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am sitting here, almost wordless, wondering
how to weave together just the right words to
describe the lusciousness of this film.
I described it to the woman at the Video store
and she said, "Sold! I am seeing it now!" after
I mentioned how real, how truthful and how artistically
woven together these stories are and how
skillfully it is crafted.
The cast is phenomenal - how many times can
that be said? What especially amazed me was
the talent in small roles - people like the
late Gregory Hines.
Holly Hunter floored me, walking alone down
a Los Angeles street - so together one moment
and falling apart the next.
Amy Brenneman as the sister who has given so
much for her blind sibling (played amazingly by
Cameron Diaz) who finally "gets it" after
an awakening discussion with her pupil.
Kathy Baker with her teen-aged son - wow.
ANd more, more, more - the camera angles, the
metaphor throughout, the connections between
seemingly unrelated characters just like there
are undoubtedly connections between YOU and
seemingly unconnected people in YOUR life as well.
My single favorite line - Calista Flockhart
as Christine, the Tarot Card reader - to Glenn
Close, Dr. Keener, the OB/GYN... "None of this
is written in stone - it is up to you, too."
This one is a keeper - a keeper indeed."
Ronald Roche | San Francisco, CA | 07/12/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is an unfortunate case of an excellent film missing theaters and going straight to video because it lacks mainstream appeal. The acting is top-notch and the screenwriting grabs you in - completely. You will not be able to turn away until you see the story's resolve. Rarely does a film estabish it's characters so well that you know exactly what the character is thinking, even when they are saying nothing at all. The camera angles, edititing, and lighting enhance the mood of the film so well that you can see into a character's inner thoughts only with a glance. Don't miss this one."