14 November 2007 | bburns
Strange. . .and strangely thought-provoking
Normally, I don't like gimmicky movies. All right, I'll admit that I enjoyed "The Third Man", "Vertigo", "Psycho", "The Usual Suspects", "The Sixth Sense" and "Memento". But usually when I see something like "Persona", "Miller's Crossing", "Jacob's Ladder", "Mulholland Drive", "Lady in the Water", or "The Prestige", I want to throw something at the screen because I feel the writers and directors of these movies are either insulting my intelligence, or displaying a lack thereof on their part. "The Nines" is that refreshing sort of gimmick-film that shows intelligence on the filmmaker's part, but doesn't insult the viewers'.
The film is divided into 3 distinct chapters, each starring Ryan Reynolds as the protagonist, Melissa McCarthy as someone who clings to Reynolds, and Hope Davis as someone who is trying to pull Reynolds away from McCarthy using the phrase "Look for the Nines." And each chapter ends ironically in a way that partially reveals what the catch-phrase means and connects the chapter to the other two.
In chapter one, Reynolds plays Gary, an actor under house arrest for buying crack. Since he doesn't have his own place, he is assigned to live with his hyper-perky publicist Margaret (McCarthy) in a house belonging to a TV producer, currently in New York shopping his new show. Gary and Margaret eventually develop a flirty relationship, even though "flirting" tends to involve viciously insulting each other. Eventually, the idyll ends when next-door-neighbor Sarah (Davis) takes an interest in Gary, and tells him that since he is a nine out of ten on the attractiveness scale, he should dump the overweight Margaret and "look for the nines".
In chapter two, Reynolds plays Gavin, the TV producer who owns the house where Gary is confined in chapter one. He is in New York shopping a new supernatural series starring Melissa McCarthy (playing herself in this chapter) as a mother who is left sitting in a car with her creepy mute daughter (Elle Fanning) while her husband looks for help. Test audiences love the show, but want him to replace the overweight McCarthy with someone more conventionally attractive. Gavin resists because of his feelings of loyalty towards McCarthy, and eventually network exec Susan (Davis) steps in, and tell him he needs to see how the test audience voted from one to ten and "look for the nines" and see what they have to say about the show.
The third chapter is the drama that Gavin was producing in chapter two. Reynolds is Gabriel, a software designer out for a drive in the woods, when his car runs out of gas. He leaves his wife Mary (McCarthy) to care for their creepy mute daughter Noelle (Fanning), while he looks for help. Eventually he runs into Sierra (Davis) who leads him on a wild goose chase before finally telling him what the phrase "Look for the Nines" really means, and why he has to abandon his family.
I like that each chapter has its own genre. Chapter 1 is a musical romantic comedy shot conventionally on film, with lots of close-ups. Chapter 2 is a pseudo-reality-show shot on shaky-cam DV that never gets particularly close to the actors. And Chapter 3 is a thriller with cinematography that splits the difference between the first two chapters: It's shot on DV; and when the characters run, the camera shakes; but in the still moments, the camera is still; and there are plenty of close-ups of people's faces.
I also like that when the secret of "The Nines" is revealed, it doesn't feel forced or like writer-director John August has pulled a fast one on us. And I thought it was cool that the female lead went to someone who doesn't fit the conventional body type of a Hollywood actress.
The only complaint I have about this movie is that the acting, directing and camera-work were merely adequate. Only the writing was truly exceptional. But good writing can absolve a multitude of sins far worse than what this film is guilty of. 8 out of 10.