CAST: Glenn Close, Dermot Mulroney, Jessica Campbell, Patricia Clarkson, Joshua Jackson, Moira Kelly, Robert Klein, Timothy Olyphant, Mary Kay Place, Kristen Stewart, Alex House

DIRECTOR: Rose Troche

Esther Gold (Glenn Close) is a tenacious woman who plays around-the-clock doctor, nurse and saint to her comatose son--a once promising rock musician--while neglecting the emotional needs of her husband and teenage daughter.

Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney), a career-obsessed lawyer, can’t cope with the humiliation of having been passed over for a top position at his firm, nor can he breathe easy with the fact that his cool wife seems to consider him a joke and his son is fixated on a Barbie-like doll.

Divorced mother Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson) struggles to bring up her two kids with only the slightest shred of support from her vile ex-husband, and she broods over the loss of a young lover.

Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place), feeling her relationship with her doting but dull husband has stagnated, picks a pathetic bedtime replacement.

What do these four tormented souls have in common? They live in the same middle-class suburb and are at least casual friends. Their journey to a more intimate connection with one another and to a deeper self-awareness is what Rose Troche’s offbeat, surprisingly affirmative drama—based on several short stories by A.M. Homes--is all about. Writer-director Troche, whose "Go Fish" (the love story of two dissimilar young women) was an indie highlight of 1994, approaches her characters with unsentimental compassion, and she neatly—but not too neatly—ties together the strands of her complex narrative. Without cynicism or cruelty, she tells some tough truths about the sterility of contemporary American life and makes a strong case for the comfort of genuine communication.

In a standout ensemble, special praise is due Glenn Close as a woman whose true strength is not revealed until the very end and to Patricia Clarkson, who makes us feel both the depth of her pain and the valor of her humor. All those triple-named starlets out in far Hollywood could take a lesson from these luminous, giving actresses.