Directed by Jill Sprecher, starring Alan Arkin, Matthew McConaughey, Clea DuVall, John Turturro, Amy Irving and William Wise.

If you are a person who places a significant value on the seemingly insignificant aspects and occurrences of life, then this is a movie you will definitely want to see.

The story follows five New Yorkers whose lives are intertwined by fate. We have Gene (Arkin), a miserable man caught in the abyss of middle management, who detests the constantly cheerful nature of a co-worker named Wade (Wise). Next is Troy (McConaughey), a hotshot District Attorney, whose life is changed forever on a fateful drive home. Beatrice (DuVall) is an optimistic young cleaning lady who has her faith in miracles crushed. Walker (Turturro) is a professor approaching middle age who becomes disenchanted with the predictability of his lot. And finally, we have his wife Patricia (Irving), who struggles to come to terms with her husband's infidelity.

The movie is in part inspired by two bad experiences suffered by writer-director Jill Sprecher in the early 1990s. She incurred a severe head injury when she was mugged in the Big Apple. Then, a year later, a stranger intentionally slapped her in the head while she was on the city's subway. As she wept after the second attack, a smile from a stranger suddenly rid her of the acute anger and sadness she was feeling at the time.

It is this kind of randomness that sets the tone, and though the movie deals with the uneasiness and insecurity such indiscriminate acts and incidents can bring, it also shows how beautiful and uplifting a simple thing like a smile, or a wave, from a stranger can be.

The movie itself is a sequence of 13 self-contained short stories, with each one focussing on one, sometimes two, of the main characters. Although each individual segment can stand alone, they gel together seamlessly due to the comprehensive character development of the director and her co-writer, and sister, Karen Sprecher.

The acting is also first class. Not alone are the likes of McConaughey and DuVall excellent, but some of lesser characters, such as Wise as Wade, are brilliantly portrayed and add immensely to this interesting effort.

However, it is Alan Arkin as Gene who stands head and shoulders above everyone else. He manages to make an otherwise bitter and spiteful man seem almost loveable. Indeed all the main protagonists, despite some glaring character flaws, are endearing in their own unique way.

The structure is also strange, with the individual tales not necessarily running in the same timeframe. This is a tactic that could easily have led to confusion, but the Sprecher sisters' meticulous writing ensures we always know where we stand.

Séamus Leonard