Published Sep 23, 2008Ever wonder what Short Cuts would have been like if it was directed by California Raisins creator Will Vinton? It probably would have been somewhat like $9.99, an Australian/Israeli co-production filmed using the process of stop-motion animation.
With the exception of a couple of Tim Burton movies, there arent many stop-motion feature films. Whereas Burtons movies created fantastical, gothic landscapes, director Tatia Rosenthal bases her film in a real world setting, subtly lapsing into the surreal occasionally but with the focus centred on contemporary malaise. The results are unique but ultimately not as satisfying as they promised to be.
The film opens with a funny and arresting scene between a middle-aged man and a homeless person (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) arguing about the manipulation of panhandling, then the pace slows dramatically. Several stories are woven together through the common thread of a shared apartment building.
The centrepiece of the stories is Dave, a meek 20something who still lives with his father. When Dave receives a flyer in the mail advertising a book that contains the meaning of life, he cant resist, especially since its only $9.99. Once hes read it, its getting people to listen thats the hard part. His neighbours are dealing with their own problems: a lonely senior meets a cantankerous angel, a little boy becomes emotionally attached to his piggy bank, a supermodel demands bizarre personal sacrifices from her lover and more.
Based on the short stories of Etgar Keret, $9.99 is interesting but leaves the audience wanting more. In dramatic terms, it has strengths and weaknesses, never reaching a conclusion that gives credence to the time invested in each individual story. While the aesthetic is constantly engaging, its not enough, at times, to propel the story forward.
Its refreshing to see such a lush, organically constructed visual style, an antidote to the soullessness of most computer-generated animation, but the finale is ultimately not as strong as the themes deserve. $9.99 is a rich, unique film but isnt without its share of disappointments. (Sherman)