Tim Blake Nelson is writer, director, and a featured player for his fifth film, Anesthesia, which explores the interconnectivity of a group of New Yorkers. It begins, and ends, with a violent assault on Sam Waterston.
Waterston plays beloved Professor Walter Zarrow, who, mugged and stabbed, randomly presses the buttons of an apartment intercom in an attempt to get help. From there, the story leaps back in time, showing how people touched by Zarrow's life - from Kristen Stewart's brilliant-but-troubled student, to Gretchen MOL's alcoholic housewife, to Corey Stoll's unsatisfied husband, to K. Todd Freeman's tragic addict - share moments with each other, both big and small. More important, it shows how isolated they can feel. All have problems they refuse to deal with, that they ignore with such empty panaceas as booze and infidelity.
The irony of Anesthesia is that, while it uses interconnectivity as a storytelling mechanism, the characters do not really connect. They aren't people so much as means to a metaphor. The dialogue is heavy-handed - each character is seen in great pain as Waterston's professor gives a lecture that clearly spells out the themes of the movie. That certainly does not help this tapestry of characters feel fully drawn either.
Nelson, best known for playing lovable doofuses on screen (O, Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), has made some interesting films as a writer-director (the stoner comedy Leaves of Grass is an underrated gem). But Anesthesia feels like a movie we've seen before.
Directed by Tim Blake Nelson. With Sam Waterston, Glenn Close, Kristen Stewart, K. Todd Freeman, Corey Stoll, Gretchen Mol. Distributed by IFC.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.
Parent's guide: R (language, sexual content, drug use, brief violence).