Friday, August 22, 2008

The Nines

Remember the first couple times you saw Pulp Fiction in high school and you had a bunch of pseudo-philosophical conversations with your friends afterward discussing the possible theories of What Was in the Briefcase and Why Marcellus Wallace Wore the Bandage on His Neck? Well, imagine if someone took a composite of all those conversations and turned them into a feature-length movie, and you'd be pretty close to the experience of watching The Nines. Lowbrow, Hollywood-insidery, vaguely meta, self-consciously straining to be a Donnie Darko-esque mindfuck, and ridiculously yet sophomorically pretentious--this movie is a veritable Arthur Murray instruction manual of post-Tarantino cinematic missteps.

Kittens, this movie is a mess and I can't in good conscience recommend it to anyone, but I found myself inexplicably delighted by it anyway. Maybe it was the sheer joy of having a free night at home alone to watch some piece of shit DVD on my couch in my jammies with a glass of booze in hand or maybe it's because it reminded me a bit of my old fave Dead Again (which I haven't seen in ages but am pretty sure I'd despise if I saw it for the first time now), but I just couldn't bring myself to get too riled up by it, despite the fact that it continued to go exactly in all the most obnoxious directions I was mentally begging it not to go. Even though it was missing the erotic Eurotrash patina that usually distinguishes these horrible train wrecks I find so fascinating, I think it also was reminding me of movies like The Wisdom of Crocodiles and Birthday Girl in the way that it was committing with poker-faced abandon to the insanity of its own attempt at a distinct internal logic.

It was also buoyed by a really remarkable, well-chosen cast and a superb series of performances from Ryan Reynolds. Is he the North American Jason Statham? Or is he the Ryan Gosling of B-movies? Either way, the smartest thing The Nines does is begin with Reynolds in character as a hot, cocky, drug-addled TV star on a bender--which is to say, a persona akin to how you probably think of the real-life Ryan Reynolds, if you think about him at all. Then the movie shifts into its second layer of narrative and he appears as a gay screenwriter trying to get a new TV pilot on the air, and damn if the genuine subtlety and range he shows all of a sudden doesn't completely upend how you'd just mentally oriented yourself to the world of this movie and your perceptions of his talent (or lack thereof). I'm absolutely sure this must have been an intentional choice, very much of a piece with the film's whole theme of questioning/destabilizing how well you truly know yourself and the people closest to you in your life. Like I say, it's probably the smartest thing the movie does over its 99-minute running time. The character is apparently based, loosely autobiographically, on writer/director John August, so who knows how much of the performance is just an impression, but I'm not sure how much that matters to me, especially given that Reynolds goes one further in the third and final vignette and shows a real, sweet gentleness as the bearded video game-designer dad.

The movie simultaneously goes too far and not far enough in its attempt to use Melissa McCarthy to make some sort of comment on perceptions of weight in Hollywood and society, but hey, a chance to watch Melissa McCarthy carry a leading female role is still a chance to watch Melissa McCarthy carry a leading female role, so I'm not inclined to complain too much. The perennially underused Hope Davis is also a welcome presence.

I'm a huge, huge, huge fan of Go but had a lot of problems with the insipid daddy issues and faux-profundity about "storytelling" in Big Fish (two of the most prominent features previously written by August), and it's amazing how much The Nines feels like the exact intersection between the two (with a few heaping tablespoons of Soderbergh's incredibly irritating Full Frontal thrown in for good measure). So, little wonder, then, that I found myself drawn in and repulsed by it in equal measure. For better or worse, though, I kind of can't get it out of my head today, which I always, ultimately, take as a good sign.

Also, koalas are telepathic and control the weather. Best throwaway line this side of Spike's bitchy, sotto voce sneers in Buffy.

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