Film Review: “Short Cuts” (1993)

I’ve been debating whether I should write a review on this movie, but, in the end, I decided it would probably be for the best. I purchased Short Cuts a few months ago when I was buying all the Robert Altman movies I could find. My good friend said she really liked it so I figured that I would probably enjoy it as well. And I guess I sort of did? Not really? I’m not sure? Which is the reason why I’m writing this post I guess.

Some people equate this movie to Nashville or say at least it’s similar to Nashville; I do beg to differ, and not just because there is no singing in Short Cuts. Perhaps my first and foremost reason is the treatment of women in the film; certainly Robert Altman is making a comment on women in society in Nashville, but in Short Cuts it almost disturbed me. Perhaps the fact that Short Cuts was made in the 1990’s and much closer to today (though, if you look at it, it’s a 21 year difference. I mean these people didn’t have cell phones).

From the brief number of reviews I’ve read on Short Cuts, I’ll admit I was surprised no one mentioned the treatment of women in the film. Rather, they summed everything up as the disconnectedness between the characters in the film. I pondered that and, while that was certainly true, it was much stronger in the relationship between males and females. Honestly, every single man in Short Cuts infuriated me. Tim Robbins, who literally throws his loyalty to his wife on the street (symbolized through the barking dog) to sleep with other women, Peter Gallagher, who destroys his ex-wife’s home when she goes out on a weekend vacation with her lover, Tom Waits, who drinks and drinks and is implied that he abused Lily Tomlin’s daughter when she was younger, and lastly, the three men that go fishing. Had it not been for them, I think I would have been able to tolerate it better. Let me give you a run down of these three lovely gentlemen: they first begin by asking Lily Tomlin if “they can have butter” just so they can see her rear end when she bends down. Then they go fishing and, what do you know, they find the body of a twenty-something year old girl who obviously had been raped and murdered. And what do they do? Well, they have no idea what the hell to do but decide that, since she’s dead already, there is nothing they can do, so: why not enjoy their fishing trip and tell the police after the trip?? Yeah, great idea. And it’s not like Altman is okay with this; he leaves the camera lingering on the floating body for a good 5 or 6 seconds with the overlapping dialogue of the men laughing about some nonsense.

Then, after the trip, one of the men goes home to his wife and makes love to her. Okay. Great. But then, when they’re finished (and after she has told him that she loves him), he tells her about the body they found. I’m not sure I can even do that scene* justice by trying to describe it for the women who plays his wife was phenomenal in my opinion. It is honestly shocking he can say all that he does to his wife right after making love to her. Her face says it all; she is in a state of shock and all she can say is, “and when did you find her?” He really does not get why she is so upset, and that’s what frightens me. It’s that whole general attitude among the men in the film where women don’t seem to be people who deserve any respect; they’re just, objects, things. Normally, I would just write it off and say it’s the movies but there are people out there like that and, yeah, that’s scary. {I’m not even going to begin with the final scene of the film; I think I’ve made my case on that bit clear.}

But do let me say this; the women in the film aren’t completely passive either. Look at the beautiful Madeline Stowe’s character: she knows Robbins is cheating on her and she finds it hysterical when he lies about “going out on the job.” But still, evaluating all the women, they realize how the men are treating them yet deal with it and stay with them.

Now, yes I agree that the whole sense is disconnectedness and it’s not just between males and females. Look at the relationship between the mother jazz singer and her daughter the cellist; that messed me up to be honest. Lily Tomlin and the little boy when he’s hit; we know Lily wanted to help him but he wouldn’t go because he’s not supposed to talk to strangers.

When I finished this film, I reminded myself that it was made in the 1990’s, a decade I really do hate and that I’m glad it’s over. But then I said, “It’s over!!! Life is different now!!” Or at least I hope? I mean, life is not as dreary and negative as it was in the 1990’s but still. It made me worried. And Robert Altman is a realist, and while I love Bob, I’m more of an escapist movie lover. But most of the Robert Altman films I love (3 Women, Nashville, The Long Goodbye) are his older movies so, to me, they are an escape. If that makes sense?

So, overall, I think it is safe to say that this was not my cup of tea, or rather a too strong cup of tea. Perhaps the best thing to say is that I don’t think I’ll be watching it again for quite awhile.

*I found a clip of that scene on YouTube if you want to watch it.