The Nines (2007) dir. John August
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa McCarthy, Hope Davis, Elle Fanning
"The Nines" is another Sundance hit from last year that comes to DVD without much of a theatrical release. It's worth strong attention because it's the directorial debut of hit screenwriter John August ("Go", "Big Fish", "Charlie's Angels"). August confounds us with an eliptical storyline involving three separate stories featuring the same actors playing different characters in each story. There's some very interesting material that unfortunately does not any make sense. As a result, the theme and message is lost in August's consciously difficult narrative. Each of the storylines are well-crafted, directed and dramatized, but it just doesn't add up to a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
The first story entitled "The Prisoner" involves an actor Gary (Ryan Reynolds), who falls off the wagon, burns his house down, goes drinking and driving and crashes his car. He's then sentenced to house arrest in a lavish mansion in Los Angeles. The comely neighbour (Hope Davis) makes several sexual advances to him until he's cockblocked by his perky publicist (Melissa McCarthy). Part two is called "Reality Television" and follows a writer Gavin (Reynolds again) who's developing a TV pilot for a swarmy TV Executive Producer (Davis again). Gavin is forced to make the difficult decision of firing his leading lady and best friend (McCarthy again) for a younger and more attractive star. Part 3 entitled "Knowing" features a video game designer Gabriel (Reynolds) who, while on a camping trip with his wife (McCarthy) and his daughter (Elle Fanning), run out of gas and get stranded in the wildnerness. While Gabriel leaves the two to seek help, he meets up with a shady drifter (Davis) with a sinister motive.
The triptych and wraparound storyline, the Los Angeles locale and the show business mileu make "The Nines" feel a lot like David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive". Each of the chapters are interesting standalone stories which feature compelling twists and turns in the short half hour time frame. Each of the stories have something to reveal narratively and emotionally. The opening chapter features a wonderful seduction scene between Davis and Reynolds. The second chapter has Reynolds disappearing into the character of a confident and skilled TV writer, but is twisted to reveal the vulnerability and destructive nature of the business. And part 3 builds some wonderful suspense between Davis and Reynolds, as well as the left behind family played by McCarthy and Fanning.
Where the film fails is connecting these elements together. In the finale, there's a series of revelations that is supposed to enlighten us as to what exactly is going on. But the clutter of information just confounded me even more. I would have preferred three distinct and vaguely related stories, which leaves it for the audience to infer their connectivity. The stories are already connected by characters who are referred to in some form or another in each of the other chapters.
The film is worthy enough of a look for Ryan Reynolds who stands out. It's a shame his performance will be buried on the DVD shelf. But there was enough industry buzz to get producers and directors to notice and get him some more challenging work in the future. Enjoy.