Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Logline: The lives of a television actor, television show runner, and a video game designer converge in mysterious and unsettling ways.
Okay, so I saw this August 31st. A friend bought my ticket. Even though I had heard about the buzz on this film during its premiere at Sundance, I had my reservations.
It was written and directed by John August--great, but he did write the second Charlie's Angels movie, and that was RIFE with plot holes and low budget camp that feel flat most times (Though, Justin Theroux worked out and shirtless--oddly intriguing). So, I knew that it would be an interesting film to watch, but I was wary. But, he wrote GO. So, I was giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Ryan Reynolds on the other hand: He's a very competent and downright hilarious comedic, even if some of his choices in projects rant the gamut of being perfect (his comic timing in Blade: Trinity stole the show from Wesley Snipes, you KNOW it did! :)) to being ridiculously horrible and WRONG (The Amityville Horror--save for the shirtless scenes, what was the point?). So, the red flags were a-flying. But, Hope Davis and Melissa McCarthy were also the leads, so I gave it a shot and went.
And, I was amazed by what I saw. Filmed as three interlinking stories, The Nines asks questions about writers and the stories they create, and how many of us tend to take our creations very serious...even, in theory, believing we are God since we have the power to create these worlds for our own intended gain.
The film opens with THE PRISONER (PART ONE), and we are introduced to Gary, a popular tv show actor who, after a horrible break up with his girlfriend, sets her things on fire in a grill..and leaves the fire burning and burns down his own house. He then goes in a search for crack, picks up prostitute (Octavia Spencer), and ends up in a hotel room, cracked up and hallucinating. You he got a bad batch of crack when he calls 911 to tell them that he doesn't have a belly button. He leaves the hotel and drives off. As he's driving, his hallucinations become more pronounced when he starts to see other versions of himself in the backseat. He crashes his car and is arrested by the police. He is released from custody and placed on house arrest. He is taken to his place of residence by Margaret (Melissa McCarthy), his new publicist.
They end up at a huge mansion, where Gary is to stay for six weeks. Here, the viewer starts to notice very unusual things. For instance, Margaret seems VERY preoccupied with Gary, and threatens to break his ankles with a sledgehammer if he fucks up (MISERY, anyone? :)). Meanwhile, Gary starts to hear things in the night. One day, he meets his next door neighbor Sarah (Hope Davis), a very sensual and sexually vibrant married mother who is bored with her life and takes an immediate interest in Gary. The two hit off and the impending almost sexual tryst is done over Sarah singing the song "Is That All There Is?" (and done beautifully well by Hope). But, Sarah cuts Gary off and runs off to care for her child.
Mysteriously, Gary starts to notice that things aren't what they seem in the mansion. A message on a post, apparently in Gary's handwriting, just says Look at "The Knowing" is found on the kitchen table. Gary hears voices and believes rats are in the house and sets traps everywhere. One night, he is in the kitchen. He hears voices, and bumps right into---HIMSELF (!!!!!) He freaks out and the other "person" disappears. Gary steps in one of the traps and runs out of the house. He ends up at a bus stop where a young girl (Elle Fanning) seems to know him and is trying to get him to listen to her. Unfortunately, she is deaf and he doesnt understand what she's saying. Gary is arrested again.
This time, he is given an ankle bracelet and can't go anymore than 100 yards away from the house. Margaret illustrates this for hilarious effect when she marks a red line at the 100 yard mark. She decides to stay with him, and the two quickly connect. Sarah returns, and she is more cryptic and sinister. She tells Gary she can save him, and he doesnt understand what he needs to be "saved" by. Margaret, seemingly aware of who Sarah is, tries to explain what a "Nine" is and how Gary is so important. But, Sarah tells him she can get him out of all of this and save him. Gary, confused, confronts Margaret. Stepping across the red mark, everything around him dissolves into a mass of white light and slowly fades away to PART TWO: Reality
Here, the story focuses on Gavin (played by Reynolds), a popular screenwriter who is now directing the pilot "Knowing", a supernatural drama basically sold as "Rosemary's Toddler" (a polite riff on horror-suspense classic, Rosemary's Baby). The pilot is also being filmed as a part of a reality tv show following Gavin's journey getting the pilot on the air. It stars Gavin's best friend Melissa McCarthy (playing herself), the former star of Gilmore Girls who leaves her show (pre-dating Gilmore's cancellation in May 2007. Or, was it a prediction August made in his script?) to be a part of Knowing. The two have been best friends for fifteen years, with Melissa being Gavin's friendly "hag" (gay lingo for a straight woman who's best friends are gay. For the slow folk, Gavin is "family") and confidant. The pilot is running smoothly, save for one thing: The network head (a Big Brother type tha tno one sees or hears from in the story) isnt jazzed about Melissa as the lead actress. Melissa is talented, perky, and overweight--a No-No in television. So, Gavin goes to battle over Melissa as the start with the network. On his side is Susan (Hope Davis), his boss. She is okay with Melissa as the lead
They have a focus group for the pilot to generate fan interest. In the male focus group, the men make it clear that they dont like Melissa as the lead. One particular man, a bearded guy who seems to see Gavin on the other side a two sided mirror. Gavin is freaking out and the guy walks to the mirror and continues to stare at him, screaming he's not real. Gavin leaves. Later in the story, the network makes it clear they don't like Melissa and convinces Gavin to look at Dahlia Salem, a popular tv actress who left a pilot that was in limbo. He likes her, and decides to cast Dahlia as the lead, and also keeps his job since the network was going to fire him if he kept Melissa. Facing the inevitable, he tells Melissa over drinks and the two have one of the ugliest confrontations in recent history on film. She lets him know how fucked up he is for not standing by her and basically having her give up a steady gig on Gilmore Girls for his show. All Gavin could say is he made a decision--it was either him or her. He chose himself.
Weeks later, Gavin is at the upfronts--where all the new pilots are shown to basically drum up interest from network executives to get them on the air for the Fall. Gavin is there to promote "Knowing". On the way to a reception in the hotel, he runs into Dahlia. She gives him some unexpected news: She left "Knowing" to return to her original pilot, which was picked up by the network. No one told Gavin, so he is understandably crushed. He confronts Susan at the reception and she basically tells him that the "Knowing" has been shelved indefinitely. Angry, the two argue and Gavin slaps Susan in the face. Smirking, Susan asks him if he felt like a man for slapping her. She told him he didn't and left. Defeated, Gavin runs outside. He's telling the reality tv crew about what happened and how he felt. Then, he notices bright objects (reminiscent of "The Sims") above people's heads and realizes that things clearly aren't what they seem. A woman (Octavia Spencer) asks Gavin what's wrong. He says nothing is wrong. Then, she asks him: "Then who are you talking to?" It's apparent that the reality crew is a figment of Gavin's imagination--more characters he "created" in his life. The scene fades to black and we end up with "Part Three: Knowing".
It is here that things sorta come together. In this story, the pilot Gavin created actually becomes real. Gabriel (Reynolds again) is a video game designer who is out with family in the woods. His wife Mary (McCarthy) and daughter Noelle (Elle Fanning) are having a good time. They come back to their car and realize that the engine shut down. Gabriel goes to get help, leaving the other two at the car. Getting to the highway, Gabriel meets Sierra (Davis), a hiker who shuns him when he asks her for help. He runs into her further up the highway. She offers to help him and the two walk to an area where Gabriel can use his phone.
Once in the woods, Sierra tells him the story about her ex-boyfriend, a gamer who was obsessed with Gabriel's games. He preferred those games to her, and in anger, she decides to kill him by giving him water laced with lots of GHB. Gabriel drinks the water Sierra gives him, and he starts to convulse. Sierra laced his drink with GHB, as he is "dying", Sierra tells him to accept the truth: That he is "God" and that he needs to accept the power he has. Turns out, Gabriel is a kind of "god" who created this world and ninety other versions of the world. ALL PEOPLE are his creations, and he rids himself of them everytime they fall apart. He is approached by other followers of his--Octavia Spencer (the prostitute in Part One and the woman on the sidewalk in Part Two) and Dan Dehman (the security installer-Part One; the agitated focus group man-Part Two)--who tell him to let it go and move on.
Eventually, he does and he tells Mary, his wife. Mary has always known who Gabriel truly was, and she feared the day that he would leave her forever. Noelle knew also. Come to find out--Mary was Gabriel's favorite creation and one he would miss. He leaves and the film ends with Mary and Noelle at home with a new husband, moving on as life would.
I know this review is probably confusing as hell, and it should be...The Nines raised so many pointed and interesting questions about the writer as creator and how that power can be intoxicating and poisoning. The performances were outstanding by EVERYONE.
Hope Davis and Melissa McCarthy both showed they are more than the quirky characters they play in the many films they have on their resumes. Both women showed complex and illuminating layers of strength, sensuality, and power. Both were perfectely cast, and their names will definitely be thrown around come awards seasons.
Ryan Reynolds shows that he has acting chops aplenty and has a dramatic presence that should net him more meatier roles in the future.
The first two parts were amazing. It is clear that Part Two is autobiographical. After the success of the first Charlie's Angels, John was given the chance to write and create his own TV show, the ill fated on the W.B. Only lasting seven episodes, the show was marked more for the turmoil going on behind the scenes. August was fired by HIS BOSS, the infamous Dick Wolf, the "demi-god" of the Law and Order franchise (Wolf has his own problematic history in tv. I did laugh when he predicted that ALIAS wouldn't last after its first two years and ALIAS laid a smack down on Criminal Intent the two seasons the shows completed against each other. And, I'm sure Wolf is PRAYING for "24" to leave the air..:))
The third part of the film collapses for a host of reasons, but overall, The Nines is a very good film and an excellent first effort by writer-director John August.
It's unfair that August is being compared to David Lynch and Charlie Kaufman. Lynch and Kaufman have made a career of making films with twisted, non-linear narratives, characters swapping identities, and just multi-faceted and layered plots and characters. They have both produced some great works that will most definitely stand the test of time (Lynch--Mulholland Drive and sublime, underrated, and under-seen Inland Empire--a MUST see and a film that will be reviewed here in the coming weeks; Kaufman: Being John Malkovich, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind were two amazing films that are STILL talked about to this day for their innovations and powerful and profound questions they raise). August shouldn't be compared to them--YET. Someday, he will be there if he makes films similar to The Nines and other, more innovative work. The Nines is a symbol of what is to come for John August. And, I am definitely waiting anxiously for his next project.
Sites to Visit related to the film:
Composer Alex Wurman