Joe's Movie Reviews

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


A father and son deal with their strained relationship, while father also contends with his wife abandoning him and son deals with his long-term unemployment. A homeless man kills himself and is immediately sent back to be the guardian angel of a lonely widower. A repo man begins an extremely unlikely romance with a supermodel. And much more. And all of this in claymation. Yes, it's another one of those Altmanesque claymation extravaganzas. Can't they ever think of anything original?

This Australian effort is one of the most dazzling, amazing films of the year... the year technically being 2008, since it received a token screening late in the year at a couple of theatres to qualify for the animation Oscars, but not only didn't get nominated, but wasn't even able to receive distribution until now. There are those who contend that the more original a film is, the more difficult it is to get large numbers of people interested in it. "$9.99" would seem to go a long way towards proving their case.

The title refers to the price of a series of self-help book published by an Australian publishing company, books which the previously referenced son continues to pour over in search for the secret of life, happiness, and a real relationship with his dad, who seems perpetually disappointed that he didn't turn out to be the manly take-charge hardcase that he (dad) tried to teach him to be. But the son isn't by any means the only character in the film who has trouble finding security and happiness. The repo man, the supermodel (yes, this movie performs the seemingly impossible feat of giving us a supermodel who is intelligent, sympathetic and caring), the widower... each of them has seemingly all they could want, except a happy and fulfilled life. Even the angel is bitter and resentful at never having even gotten into heaven before being sent back to Earth.

But unless you get the wrong impression and imagine that this is nothing but a depressing story of lost hopes and dreams, I should point out that it also contains bigger laughs that just about any comedy of the past several years. In particular, Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush as the angel is nothing short of hysterical, a snarky, sarcastic angel who's light-years away from the gentle, reflective angels of "Wings Of Desire" (when the widower gazes at his wings and exclaims in amazement "Are you an angel?", Rush snaps back "No, I'm a giant, talking pigeon!"). The fact is,
"$9.99" is filled with hilarious comedy, serious and even tragic drama, uplifting moments showing the connection and happiness that IS possible even when everything seems lost... in short, pretty close to everything that you run into in life. The film is, in fact, much more like real life than most live action movies. And when you consider that the entire cast is made of clay, and features a number of supernatural creatures (not just the angel) that's an especially remarkable achievement.

The film is based on a series of short stories by an Australian writer named Etgar Keret (which I have not read but am certainly going to look for now), and adapted by Keret and director Tatia Rosenthal. I'm guessing most audience members wouldn't have guessed that the pieces were all conceived separately, given how smoothly and seamlessly Keret and Rosenthal have woven them all together. Each individual element of the tapestry has considerable strength on their own, but the film becomes more than the sum of its parts when they're all added together.

For a brief while at the very beginning, I did have to wonder a question put in a thread on the IMDB message board for this film: "Why did it have to be made in claymation?" Certainly, the story COULD have been told in live action, or even in the more standard forms of animation. But there's something about claymation... the most obviously not immediately life-like form of animated film... that seems especially fitting here. The mystical, supernatural aspects of the story seem very down to earth and logical when you're watching them in a form of storytelling that makes everything seem not exactly of this world as we know it. And the extremely realistic human drama of other sections (particularly the father/son relationship, featuring an outstanding vocal performance by Anthony Lapaglia as the father) are given a certain element of magic that they could never have had if the story had been told any other way. In fact, "magic" is pretty much the word that best describes this movie as a whole. It's a marvelous story of the magic that we can find all around us if we know where to look and how to look in the right way... and the magic that can be found even in some of the most seemingly mundane situations. As such, it's so thoroughly un-Hollywood commercial that it probably won't get very wide distribution and won't last long where it does play. So when it opens soon at the Lagoon Theatre in Minneapolis... and hopefully somewhere near anyone reading this elsewhere... please go to see it. There just isn't enough magic in the movies these days to not support it when it comes around.


Post a Comment

<< Home