Nine Lives (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

What's the point? If I wanted to spend 12 minutes watching someone pushing a cart around a grocery store, I'd go to the local A&P, not sit in a movie theater. At least then I could get the week's shopping done.

Nine Lives is a failed experiment - an attempt to present vignettes from the lives of nine women whose lives occasional interconnect (a la Short Cuts), but rarely in a meaningful manner. The gimmick (and it is a gimmick) is that each of the sequences is filmed in a single, unbroken tracking shot (10-to-12 minutes in length). Movies like this usually have something interesting to say about the human condition, but not Nine Lives. It makes an insufferably obvious observation: we live boring lives, shit happens, and we die. Few people need a movie to tell them this, and certainly not one as pointless and inert as Nine Lives. It's tough to imagine having a more restless time in an art house theater this year.

Depending on your perspective, either there isn't a story or there are too many of them. Nine Lives offers nine misfires, although some are worse than others. One woman spends half her sequence mopping a jail floor. Then there's the grocery store incident, in which a woman re-connects with an old flame in the produce aisle. A distraught daughter comes home to confront a father. A woman and her mate tell inappropriate tales to two friends. A daughter acts as an intermediary between her mother and father. A deaf man wants to have sex with an ex-wife at the funeral of his current wife. A woman wimps out at the last minute during a motel tryst. A wife berates her husband while lying in a bed awaiting breast cancer surgery. And a mother and daughter have a picnic in a cemetery.

Don't be deceived by the above description. Nine Lives isn't as exciting as I have made it sound. It's boring and tedious, and none of the characters is developed beyond the two-dimensional level. It might be interesting to watch someone you know and care about do things like shop and have a graveside picnic, but not strangers. Staying awake through the entirety of this movie requires at least one cup of coffee (preferably more, so you have an excuse to duck out for a bathroom break in the middle). I have heard it said that cinematographer-turned-director Rodrigo Garcia is brave for attempting this experiment. To an extent, I agree. Anyone who places something this off-putting into circulation shows more courage than good sense.

More shocking than the film's pretentiousness and lack of energy is the respectable cast Garcia has gathered: Robin Wright Penn, Jason Issacs, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Holly Hunter, Sissy Spacek, Amy Brenneman, Aidan Quinn, Kathy Baker, Joe Mantegna, Glenn Close, and Dakota Fanning (who looks like she's about seven years old, indicating that her segment may have been filmed some time ago). Yet there's an implicit warning in that. Why would a movie with so many A-list names be distributed by a small company like Magnolia Pictures? Because everyone else passed on it, and deservedly so.

If you're still curious, give Nine Lives a try. By the third life, you'll have come to the conclusion that it's better to walk out than waste the other six.

Nine Lives (United States, 2005)

Run Time: 1:55
U.S. Release Date: 2005-10-28
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1