|Hint: the secret does not involve the power of beards|
There are three short stories in The Nines, and they are helpfully separated by title screens indicating what each subsection is named: The Prisoner, Reality Television, and Knowing. Each chapter features Ryan Reynolds as a guy with a G-name (Gary, Gavin, and Gabriel) with a different problem. In The Prisoner, Gary is a goofy and not terribly bright television actor from a CSI-type show that winds up under house arrest after some accidental arson and a crack-cocaine binge. In Reality Television, Gavin is a high-end writer that has to choose between standing by his best friend (and the star of his new pilot) and screwing her over to get his show on the air. In Knowing, Gabriel is the creator of a World of Warcraft-type game that has to find help for his family when their car battery dies in the woods. In each chapter, Melissa McCarthy (whose characters include Margaret, Melissa, and Mary) acts as someone who cares about G-name, whether as a friend, lover, or simply a concerned third party. Similarly, Hope Davis plays characters (named Sarah, Susan, and Sierra) that are trying to get G-name alone, away from...something. But what? And what does the number nine have to do with any of this?
|...and yes, rating Reynolds on a 1-10 scale is mentioned.|
Right off the bat, the second the phrase "Part One: The Prisoner" popped on the screen, I knew I was in for something ostentatious. Any time a filmmaker decides to separate a movie into chapters for the viewer, you know there is something pompous in the works. The funny thing about The Prisoner is that it is actually kind of silly. You don't get any sense of self-importance in this first bit, and that was a pleasant surprise. Ryan Reynolds is fun to watch when he's being goofy, and his crack bender and its consequences were entertaining. Of course, Part One ends with something strange and Part Two starts to get metatheatrical, with the camera assuming the part of a reality TV camera. Part Two also shows some overlap between Gabriel's story and Gary's; it seems like they are spending at least some time in the same house, at the same time, but without seeing each other. Weird. Part Three turns the meta up a few notches, with the characters becoming aware of their counterparts in the other stories and their memories/abilities. If that doesn't sound pretentious enough for you, there is also a writer/creator/god theme throughout. I'm not saying that this film is annoying, or that the heavier themes are handled poorly, or anything like that; it's just fair warning, because you sometimes need to be in the right mindset to take in a film like The Nines.
|Example of a bad day to watch The Nines|
The acting in this film is fine, but I was hoping for more, since the actors all get to play multiple parts. While Reynolds clearly has fun with his parts, his performances of Gary and Gavin bordered on being caricatures. Yes, you can argue that is part of the "big picture" story, but I'll touch on that later. Still, Gary and Gavin were entertaining enough, with Gabriel standing out as the most grounded role in the movie. Reynolds has no problem with comic timing, but I felt that he could have done more with his conflicted emotions. I enjoyed Melissa McCarthy for the most part, even if her Margaret character was initially grating. I've always preferred McCarthy in realistic roles, so it was nice to see her in a movie that gave her some dramatic moments. It's worth noting that she plays herself during Part Two: Reality Television, and that is her real-life husband making a brief appearance. I would also like to point out that her character in Part Three is married to Ryan Reynolds. I'm not saying that it couldn't or shouldn't happen, but it is a damned odd romantic pairing for a film featuring Hollywood actors.
|No offense, Melissa, but you're no Scarlett Johansson|
|...and featuring Hope Davis as the Keymaster!|
This is John August's directorial debut, although he has some noteworthy writing credits (including this movie). Aside from co-screenwriting several Tim Burton films, August is the writer of Go and the Charlie's Angels movies. That should give you a pretty good idea of his talent for subtlety. I don't know...this film isn't poorly written, or filled with one-liners --- although claiming that koalas are telepathic and control weather was funny --- but it never felt clever enough to pull off August's ambition. For example, there is a definite reason why all of Ryan Reynolds' characters had names beginning with G, and the same for Melissa McCarthy's M-characters; these are just heavy-handed hints, though, without much payoff when and if you figure them out. I don't think this story required the bizarre awesomeness of Charlie Kaufman, necessarily, but this is definitely a script that wants to say something clever about writing/creating, and I don't think August completely succeeded. His direction was fine, although the script makes the direction more of an afterthought than anything else.
|Pictured above: Melissa and Elle viewing an early cut of the film. Not pictured: Elle crying.|
The Nines is a movie that reaches for the stars, but falls short. I didn't love the movie, but it was an interesting change of pace for me, and I appreciate that. The acting in the film was a little unbelievable at times, but you could argue that it played into the theme of someone assuming a fictional role. You would be talking out of your ass if you argued that, but it is certainly an option. Any time a filmmaker chooses to go the meta- route, they risk coming off like a hack; not everyone has something clever to say about the filmmaking process. Yes, there are some clever moments (the "no bellybutton" bit was cute), but I didn't think they added up to a proper whole. With this kind of movie, I want to be blown away when it ends, with my concept of reality and creativity completely unhinged. I think The Nines fails in this aspect. It's not a bad movie, though. It's just a little shallower than you might expect.