Micky and Eddie (Sean Penn) are sharing a house in the Hollywood Hills while Mickey takes a break from his wife and family. They also work together in Hollywood, but in prime L.A. style they drive separate cars to work even though while doing so they continue a long argument on their cell phones. They continue it again on their separate commutes home. Hurlyburly could use a few more touches like this, but the wit here resides mostly in David Rabe's dialogue (from his stage play). It's a very talky script that would work better on the stage; still, the only bright spots (aside from Spacey's performance) are in the words.
Not that director Anthony Drazan has failed to add some interesting and disjointed camera angles, but they feel separate from the heart of the matter, insofar as the matter has a heart. That is to say, plot is not overly conspicuous. Without giving too much away, let's say that a lot of people drift in and out of the house, and Phil (Chazz Palminteri) has a crisis with his marriage that prompts cokehead Eddie to reconsider his vapid existence.
Rabe's loopy, involuted dialogue reaches crescendoes wherein you realize you don't need to be listening to its content so much as its amusing verbal ricochets:
Mickey: You don't know what you're saying. I know you think you know what you're saying, but you're not saying it.
Eddie: I don't know what I mean, but I know what I'm saying. Is that what you mean? It's not like anybody knows what anything means, right? So at least I know I don't know what I mean, which is better than most people; they probably think they know what they mean, not just what they think they mean.
And they mean it. Rabe's dialogue is what I call para-articulate; it runs alongside notions of what it means to be articulate. It takes a long time for characters to get around to what they mean, yet in all that colloquial stumbling around, they convey a lot of emotional and personal information. ("You know, if your manner of speech is in any way a reflection of what goes on inside your head, you're lucky you can tie your shoes," remarks one character.) A lot of the information they convey is about how shallow they are, but they're also groping toward some kind of meaningful philosophy--"groping" being the key word.
Meg Ryan gives a good performance (purged of the perky quirks that constitute the standard Meg Ryan performance) as Bonnie, a good-hearted exotic dancer, but Anna Paquin and Robin Wright Penn are wasted in other female roles. I think we're not supposed to get too upset at Hurlyburly's misogyny, since the women are more hopeful; they have their acts together more than the men. But I don't see that that's much to cheer about--so the women are less screwed up than a bunch of self-absorbed drugged assholes who clearly hold all the power in Hollywood? One giant step for womankind.