Rather than move swiftly through all nine of this generous and lovely, ambitious yet quiet film's separate-yet-interconnected sequences (each shot in a single take, a technique awkwardly shoehorned into a few the narratives, often times so gracefully handled it's nearly unnoticeable), I would like to just mention the second chapter of the film, which stars Robin Wright Penn, who has been taken for granted for so long as second fiddle to Sean and as the third or fourth tier star of her films that no one seems to have noticed the subtle character shadings and stunning depths she brings to each role (White Oleander, Unbreakable, She's So Lovely, The Pledge, each and every part she plays strikingly different and memorable). Hopefully, although she is again part of an ensemble, audiences won't overlook her elegant work in the upcoming Nine Lives, as a pregnant wife slowly pushing her shopping cart through a supermarket, spotting who seems to be an old flame (Jason Isaacs), trying to avoid him, then conceding to him, conversing for a while, wistfulness turns to regrets turns to pain. We soon realize it was no fling they once shared, but the relationship that probably defined their youths. The gamut of emotions that spill across Wright Penn's face as she makes her way through this physical and emotional labyrinth, surrounded by the symbols of her current domestic dependency yet faced with her independent past, is simply remarkable. If the sequence ultimately goes a little slack with melodrama, Rodrigo Garcia's shooting style and Robin Wright Penn's effortless all-or-nothing performance elevate it to a wonderfully poignant emotional plane.
Of course, this is not to detract from the overall film, which is surprisingly touching even in its most forced moments. Especially memorable are Sissy Spacek (no shock there) and Holly Hunter (in the film's most oblique sequence). Completely worthwhile, the film could get lost in the fall shuffle to the more robust male-centric types like /i>Jarhead, Syriana, and Good Night and Good Luck, which draw more mainstream excitement. Yet don't write it off as glorified Lifetime; there's some real tough stuff to chew on here.