Main cast: Cameron Diaz (Carol Farber), Amy Brenneman (Kathy Farber), Calista Flockhart (Christine), Veleria Golino (Lilly), Glenn Close (Dr Keener), Holly Hunter (Rebecca), Kathy Baker (Rose), Matt Craven (Walter), Gregory Hines (Robert), Miguel Sandoval (Sam), Noah Fleiss (Jay), Danny Woodburn (Albert), Penelope Allen (Nancy), Roma Maffia (Debbie), and Mika Boorem (June)
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her won’t be getting its screen premiere in US (catch it on cable), a pity as this movie celebrates the bittersweet entity that is Woman – complicated, simple, caring, bitter. “Only a fool would speculate about the life of a woman,” says Carol Farber. Indeed.
This movie describes brief montages in the lives of a few woman, all may or may not be related. Dr Keener, a middle-aged woman trying desperately to get hold of a colleague she is besotted with, gets visited by fortune teller Christine who reads her better than she’d liked. Christine herself remembers about her life with her dying lover Lilly (why is it that gay or lesbian characters in these movies are always dying?) and her childhood.
Meanwhile, single mother Rose finds it increasingly difficult to accept that her teenage son is growing up, and finds a tentative romance with a very short man across the street. Rebecca, a cynical woman, finds herself pregnant with her married lover’s child (the lover, alas, isn’t married to her), and decides to get an abortion even if it means losing her last chance to have children.
Finally, Kathy devotes herself to caring for her blind sister Carol, even though the latter is well-adjusted. Both can’t let go of each other even if they want to.
The loneliness that permeates these women’s lives is so thick and suffocating that I can cut it with a knife. The actresses play their roles with graceful aplomb, as if knowing perhaps they are playing the rare roles that celebrate their sex. Whether at the lowest desperation (Dr Keenan) or whether they are trying to hide their pain at broken promises under a façade of peacefulness (Carol), there is no denying the strength or the courage of these women as they try to stay sane.
Several scenes haunt me still. Rebecca breaking down after her abortion, Carol’s tears running down her face as she speculates on why an old acquaintance of her sister killed herself (her own anger at life spilling over her story), Christine telling Lilly about her childhood canaries – all painful scenes of lonely, lonely people. When the dwarf across the street gives Rose a bouquet of flowers and when Kathy finally agrees to a date with a colleague, these brief scenes of happiness aren’t happily ever afters – they are promises.
Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her doesn’t promise absolutes, for it is just a brief glimpse into the lives of several women for a few days. An unsatisfying too-brief glimpse, one that nonetheless celebrates the complicated strengths and weaknesses of the supposedly “weaker sex”. Just wonderful.