Mostly, it's just why these particular character do things are a little bit, for-lack-of-a-better-word, crazy, but, this is L.A. where both the sky is falling and the ground is moving beneath your feet. And, things happen. Who isn't a little bit out there?
Robert Altman“Short Cuts,” is an absolute essential, and arguably his best work. Of course, I'm tempted to put nearly every film Altman made into this Canon the moment I see them, but "Short Cuts", might be the most Altman, Altman's ever been. Ironically, the inspiration for the film doesn't come from him. Made a year after his scathing satire on Hollywood, “The Player,” which marked his mainstream comeback of this longtime Hollywood outsider, who was once a Hollywood insider..., but instead, he created a fascinating mosaic of L.A. following twenty-two different characters, who eventually connect and collide with each other, despite geographic, social and class differences. If you wonder where P.T. Anderson came up with “Magnolia,” he’ll blatantly tell you, it’s a remake of “Short Cuts,” but where Anderson made an operatic melodrama, Altman’s film is banal, natural and truly realistic characters that he has great affection for, frailties and demons all. These stories themselves have the typical ironic turns and human revelations of Altman works, but he actually used just as fascinating a source, the short stories of Raymond Carver.
If you’ve never read one, I highly recommend them. There’s some of the most wondrous reads you can find, and they capture an incredible essence of human behavior, whether drama, comedy, sadness, tragedy, disappointment, and the unpredictability of human emotions. It's not shocking at all to see "Birdman..." use a Carver short story for it's play-within-the-film to parallel Michael Keaton's decent into madness, and I've been working more than usual in the field of short stories, and while, the ones I've been working on, aren't exactly inspired by Carver, lately, he's the one I usually think of when I think of short stories as an art form. His stories are almost ready-made for Altman to make numerous movies, but by combining all of these characters and watching them in a world where missed connections can cause chain reactions and how people who don’t get the chance to connect might have altered some human frailties and dilemmas, and show how those who do connect can still lead to results that can’t be predicted or prepared for.
As with all Altman’s multiple narratives, there’s too many to explain and go over in one small paragraph, and there really isn’t a point to. That said, one scene involves a sad death of a child, Casey (Zane Cassidy) who gets hit by a waitress's car, Doreen (Lily Tomlin). He gets up and starts walking. Doreen, shocked, tries to convince the kid to go to the hospital, but he won't get in the car and begins walking home instead, saying that he's not allowed to get in the car with strangers. Of course, Howard and Ann (Bruce Davidson and Andie MacDowell) don't see that and never will as their child goes on life support and his doctor, Ralph, (Matthew Modine) seems more fascinated by Howard's fame as a TV reporter. Neither of course does Doreen who spends the rest of the movie reconciling with her drunkard husband, Earl (Tom Waits) unaware that she's killed a kid who seemed to be alright. Even the neighbor girl, Zoe (Lori Singer) a cellist who sees him walking back and tries to engage with him, but she let's him pass, not aware 'til later of the tragedy. Also, unaware, is a baker, Andy (Lyle Lovett) who's made a birthday cake for Casey that his parents haven't shown up to pick up. This is of course one thread, and there's several others that each intertwine. Some, tragic, some are much funnier, some are even sexual, and despite the randomness of their connections, separately they're fascinating in of themselves. Like the plumber, Jerry (Chris Penn) who's wife Lois (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a phone sex operator, who wishes that she'd talk to him the way she talks to the guys on the other end of the phone while she's changing diapers, or the philandering cop, Gene (Tim Robbins) who pulls over a clown, Claire (Anne Archer) just to hit on her. Or the Doctor, who is calm, if distracted at his work, is near jealous-rage when his artist wife, Marian (Julianne Moore) confesses to cheating on him right before a night out and a double date with another couple.
Is it all truly connected or are we, truly connected, or is it jump coincidence, fluke and chance, that connects erroneously, or does our behavior dictates our actions, even when it all seems to be random chance. The movie begins with a human attempt to compound nature, and ends with nature fighting back, in typical Los Angeles fashion, unpredictable, and without reason or provocation, just like many of the short cuts of life in the film.