Ten stories from the legendary Hollywood director: some good, some passable, all worthwhile.
It’s fair to say that Sayles has been known for his independent stance and writing talent as much as anything: in the film world, what has garnered him attention are his words and settings. He’s also a novelist (Los Gusanos, 1991), and now—after 25 years—he brings us a second collection of tales (after The Anarchists’ Convention, 1979). “The Halfway Diner” is a hallmark selection, a tough and poignant portrait of a band of women making the long bus trip across a desert to visit their men in jail. Not much happens—these, for the most part, are stories long on small knots of characters talking, short on action—but it’s an exacting piece of work. The title piece, from 1980, collects the reactions of a number of lower-rung Hollywood employees in a rest home when one of their number, a guy who’d supposedly been a driver on the Fox lot, declares that he used to be John Dillinger. It’s a short little surprise, like a postcard from old Hollywood and quite funny for the often didactic Sayles. The meat of the volume is likely “Casa de los Babys,” a lengthy story from 2000 that was the basis for a film three years later. The setting is phenomenal, a group of American women in a rundown Mexico hotel waiting for the glacially slow bureaucracy to provide them with the children they came down to adopt. A well-nuanced selection of examples of American ignorance, arrogance,and innocence, the women alternate between support and backbiting, each not-so-secretly hoping her baby comes first. As in his films, Sayles proves better over the short stretch, with his punchy dialogue and socially astute ear, while occasionally lacking the story drive to carry him through longer passages.
Not much in the way of knockouts here, but plenty of solid shots.