Short Cuts (1993)

short cuts poster 1993 movie
10 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great movie, great cast, great interwoven stories


Movie Info

Movie Name: Short Cuts

Studio: Fine Line Features

Genre(s): Drama/Comedy

Release Date(s):  September 4, 1993 (Venice Film Festival)/October 1, 1993 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

short cuts dead body woman

Something’s always going to pop-up in L.A.

Medflies have infested Southern California and the authorities are trying to get the situation under control by spraying.  As the helicopters pass over Los Angeles and the surrounding cities, the people go about their daily life.  Sherri (Madeleine Stowe) and her cop husband Gene (Tim Robbins) are having marital problems, and Gene is having an affair with Betty Weathers (Frances McDormand).  Betty’s separated husband Stormy (Peter Gallagher) isn’t a fan of Betty’s behavior and has his own means of evening the score.  TV commentator Howard Finnigan (Bruce Davison) and his wife Anne (Andie MacDowell) face a crisis when their son Casey (Zane Cassidy) is struck by a car…which leads Howard’s estranged father Paul (Jack Lemmon) back into his life.  The Finnigans’ neighbors Zoe (Lori Singer) and her mother and her mother Tess (Annie Ross) have a strained relationship.  Make-up artist Bill Bush (Robert Downey Jr.) and his wife Honey Bush (Lili Taylor) find themselves babysitting the successful neighbor’s fish while spending time with their friends pool maintenance man Jerry Kaiser (Chris Penn) and his sex-line performing wife Lois (Jennifer Jason Leigh).  Honey’s mother Doreen (Lily Tomlin) deals with a crisis as her husband Earl (Tom Waits) continues to drink.  Meanwhile, artist Marian Wyman (Julianne Moore) and her doctor husband Ralph (Matthew Modine) are caught in a dinner with a new couple unemployed Stuart Kane (Fred Ward) and his children’s clown wife Claire (Anne Archer)…all as the helicopters fly above.

short cuts chris penn jennifer jason leigh sex phone operator

It’s just business…

Directed by Robert Altman (who helped adapt the screenplay with Frank Barhydt), Short Cuts is a drama-comedy.  Following Altman’s The Player in 1992, the movie adapts the aspects of the short stories of Raymond Carver.  The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #265).

Altman has a real style and form.  Nashville really introduced it (and to some extent M*A*S*H), and Short Cuts ran with it.  With so many characters and storylines, Altman keeps masterful control of the story which is a film about slices of life…and leads to a very real blend of humor and drama

short cuts lyle lovett andie mcdowell bruce davison

I hope you like my muffins

The movie in many ways is “about nothing” like a Seinfeld episode, but the stories interlock and carry some transitional themes along with the characters.  What really works in Short Cuts is that almost all the stories are compelling in their little slice of L.A.  While it kind of functions as an anthology, you find yourself excited to hear the next part of each character’s story.  It doesn’t have that normal lag where you care less about some of the characters.  While the ending doesn’t necessarily give you all the answers of what comes next, it still feels satisfying.

It all goes back to the cast though.  Despite having a ton of “leads” the ensemble cast feels pretty balanced.  There are characters with smaller roles like Buck Henry, Huey Lewis, Alex Trebek, Jack Lemmon, and Lyle Lovett, but they all are still important (and who doesn’t love an insane baker Lyle Lovett torturing Andie McDowell and Bruce Davison…especially when he has to turn nice).  Everyone is at their best.  Be it Lily Tomlin and Tom Waits as a great couple or Chris Penn dealing with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s at-home sex line business.  Altman and the script bring out great performances.

short cuts matthew modine fred ward julianne moore

The circus has come to town!

The movie also does a great job showcasing L.A. and the surrounding cities that make up the sprawling metropolis.  The characters come from all different socioeconomic backgrounds and their living areas and this helps quickly establish their characters (which is important since development of so many characters isn’t always possible).  It doesn’t have as many long sequenced shots as some of Altman’s stuff, but it still has that Altman style.

Short Cuts is a classic and one of Altman’s best films.  The film was influential, and Paul Thomas Anderson used Nashville and Short Cuts as examples when penning and creating his similar film Magnolia.  Altman provided a different voice at the cinema and not all of his stuff worked, but when it did click, Altman was genius.  Short Cuts is a movie that clicked and continues to click as the years pass.  Altman followed Short Cuts with Prêt-à-Porter in 1994.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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