LIST CANDIDATE: THE NINES (2007)

DIRECTED BY: John August

FEATURING: , Melissa McCarthy, Hope Davis, Elle Fanning

PLOT: Three separate plot strands—about a self-destructive actor under house arrest, a

Still from The Nines (2007)

writer trying to get his series past the pilot stage while being filmed by a reality TV crew, and a video game designer whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere—intertwine in a mysterious way, with the same actors playing different characters in each mini-story.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Any doubts I might have had about considering this pretty good, pretty strange movie as a candidate for the List were allayed when I heard writer/director John August proclaim “we’re a weird movie, for a lot of reasons…” on the “making of” DVD featurette.  If the director deliberately set out to make a weird movie, who am I to refuse to consider it?  But, while August’s movie scores above average in terms of both quality and of weirdness, I’m not sure that it’s combined totals are high enough to inaugurate it as one of the greatest weird movies of all time, at least not on the first ballot.

COMMENTS: I have to be careful in discussing The Nines not to give away much more than you’d discover on your own by reading the blurb on the back of the DVD case.  When you pop the disc into your player, you can expect to see three different stories—“The Prisoner,” “Reality Television,” and “Knowing”—acted by the same core trio, each playing different roles in each tale.  Besides the actors, locales, song lyrics, a television series, and—especially—the number “9” recur in each of the divergent plot lines, drawing correspondences and reverberances between these various worlds.  There is a thread connecting each strand; and although the first two stories, at least, are engaging on their own terms, it’s figuring out that overarching plan that supplies most of the interest.  One thing that can be discussed (and praised) without spoiling anything is the acting.  Hope Davis plays, variously, a horny housewife, a conniving TV producer, and a hiker in the middle of nowhere; Melissa McCarthy tackles the triumvirate of a bubbly public relations expert, the mother of a mute girl, and herself, the “Gilmore Girls” actress.  But it’s previously unheralded Ryan Reynolds who’s the real revelation here.  As a dimwitted, self-destructive Lothario actor and an erudite gay screenwriter, he projects two such diverse personae that you almost can’t believe it’s the same actor inhabiting both roles.  (His third role is, oddly, a bit blander, but you won’t mind after watching the first two perfs).  The bizarre first raises it’s head in story one when the actor character freaks out after trying crack for the first time, but drug hallucinations are expected, conventional type of Hollywood weirdness.  The continued appearance of the number 9 everywhere marks the ascendency of the odd, and things get into a high weird gear when a character decides to suddenly expresses her inner feelings through a musical number.  Working against the film’s weirdness, however, is the fact that the mystery dissolves too early, and everything becomes perfectly logical (according to the movie’s speculative conceit) long before the end rolls around.  The tone of The Nines is primarily a moody psychological thriller, but each segment contains a dramatic core, and there are numerous satirical jabs throughout—especially at the world of television (the second segment comes from the author’s real life travails trying to bring a series to life in a cutthroat corporate world where backstabbing is a routine duty performed over a power lunch).  The different styles blend surprisingly well, but the movie’s overall emotional impact isn’t what it aims for, primarily because the central character turns out to be difficult to relate to. Comparing The Nines to one of Charlie Kaufman‘s metaphysical conceits is appropriate; it’s in the same ballpark, at least (though Kaufman, come to think of it, tends to hit his ideas out of the ballpark).  Multilayered, The Nines ultimately could be interpreted as anything from (cosmically speaking) a treatise on man’s relationship to God, to (on a concrete level) a reflection on the addictiveness of video game culture.  If those diverse interpretive possibilities don’t stir your curiosity, I’m not sure what will.

The Nines is John August’s first feature directing credit.  The Sony DVD includes August’s hilarious short film, “God,” with Melissa McCarthy, which is about a woman’s (literal) relationship with her Creator.  August has also written several Hollywood screenplays, most notably for the Tim Burton projects Big Fish, The Corpse Bride, and the upcoming feature version of Frankenweenie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…weirdly engrossing head-scratcher of a metaphysical puzzle movie…”–Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Urushial.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

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