Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her

“Only a fool would speculate about the life of a woman.”

So says Carol Farber (Cameron Diaz) just after speculating on the life of a woman — specifically, why an old acquaintance of her sister, Kathy (Amy Brenneman), killed herself.

“Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her,” an amazingly well-crafted and sensitive film by first-time director Rodrigo Garcia, spends little time speculating about women, instead showing us the lives of several upwardly mobile Los Angeles women, their lives all separate except for some random crossings of one another’s paths. The “things you can tell just by looking” at these women are things like loneliness, longing, dissatisfaction and desire. The reason these emotions can be discerned just by looking is that Garcia has assembled a smashing cast of actresses who can tell you everything you need to know just by their body language and facial expressions. Then we see their stories, and we see WHY they look the way they do.

There’s Dr. Keenan (Glenn Close), a middle-aged doctor who avoids true intimacy while actually longing for it, sitting by the phone waiting for a male colleague to call. Then there’s Rebecca (Holly Hunter), a bank manager whose motto is “I’m not big on regrets” who finds out she’s pregnant by the married man she’s been having a three-year affair with.

And single-mom Rose (Kathy Baker), an endearing woman who develops a sweet crush on a new neighbor. And Christine (Calista Flockhart), a tarot-card-reader whose lesbian lover (Valeria Golino) is dying. And sisters Carol and Kathy Farber — Carol is blind; Kathy is a police detective — who both yearn for love and almost find it.

Bittersweet moments abound here, as does gentle humor and tender pathos. Outstanding acting performances are also the norm, particularly from Baker and Close (if I had to choose two), whose stories seem the most poignant and touching.

Technically, I think this may be a “chick flick.” But with superior acting and some of the finest story-telling in recent memory, it can be appreciated by anyone who enjoys an engrossing, sophisticated film.

A- (; PG-13, one scene of extended non-sexual rear male nudity, implied sex, vulgarity, occasional profanity.)