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Television Review

This Cast Is Worth More Than Just One Look

March 10, 2001|DARYL H. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a Tarot card reading, the psychic tells her subject: "None of this is written in stone. I mean, these are your cards today, but nothing happens without you."

Her advice, which comes early in "Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her," echoes through the rest of the film as characters weigh the risks against the rewards of connecting with another person--of taking action that might alter the future.

Richly imagined, gracefully written and delicately realized, this small film--which begins playing Sunday on Showtime--unfolds in a series of vignettes performed by the likes of Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Cameron Diaz, Calista Flockhart, Amy Brenneman and Kathy Baker. They deliver subtle, unself-conscious work in this unpretentious, true-to-life film.

Produced by Jon Avnet and written and directed by first-timer Rodrigo Garcia, the film was intended for theatrical release and began to generate a buzz at the Cannes and Sundance festivals. Distributor United Artists questioned its ability to survive in the crowded movie market, however, and after delaying the release, finally scuttled theatrical showings and turned the movie directly over to cable channel Showtime.

That's a none-too-flattering commentary about today's Hollywood, but it's good news for Showtime subscribers, at least.

Set in the present-day San Fernando Valley, these five stories unfold independently, though some characters appear tangentially in other tales.

Each story begins with a lingering shot of the main character. Taking our cue from the title, we hunt for clues, and while some things can be seen just by looking, others remain hidden--until events draw them to the surface or cause them to be shut away still more securely.

Close plays a divorced doctor whose crisp, confident appearance masks inner turbulence; Hunter is a steely, self-sufficient bank manager who gets a chilling glimpse of her future; Baker is an aspiring writer and divorced mom who longs for a man's touch; Flockhart is a sometime fortuneteller who doesn't need the cards to tell her what's in store for her and her terminally ill lover (Valeria Golino); and Brenneman is an unmarried police detective haunted by the suicide she's investigating, while her blind sister, played by Diaz, comes up with painfully plausible scenarios about what might have led to this act of self-destruction.

Motherhood and sisterhood emerge as powerful symbols, as do ghostly forebodings of the future. The most telling details, however, are written in each actress' face. Things you can tell just by looking at her, indeed.

* "Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her" debuts Sunday at 8 p.m. and repeats next Saturday at 5 p.m. on Showtime. The network has rated it PG-13 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 13).

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