Nine Lives is the movie equivalent of an anthology of short stories, incorporating the tales of nine women whose lives have trapped them inside personally untenable situations. It’s also a stylistic experiment, because each story is filmed in a single, unbroken eleven to fifteen minute take. This unique approach turns each episode into a one act play. It also gives the stories an immediate, fly-on-the-wall quality that heightens the sense of reality onscreen.
The stories themselves lack any grand, life-changing arc that you expect from more conventional movies. These are moments out of nine lives (natch) captured voyeuristically. The script by writer/director Rodrigo García captures the natural rhythms of the way people talk (rather than the way movie characters talk). The characters are sharply etched portraits of largely unremarkable, but compelling people we might know, but in shoes we’re glad we’re not walking.
We meet a mother (Elpida Carrillo) serving a jail sentence and waiting for a visit from her daughter. A pregnant woman (Robin Wright Penn) encounters an old flame (Jason Isaacs) at a supermarket. A distraught woman (Lisa Gay Hamilton) returns home to confront an abusive father. A couple (Holly Hunter and Stephen Dillane) reveal a little too much while visiting their upscale friends’ new condominium. A bright teenage (Amanda Seyfreid) girl stays home from college to care for her invalid father (Ian McShane). A woman (Amy Brenneman) attends the funeral of the wife of her ex-husband (William Fichtner), even though the widower is still fixated on her. A married woman (Sissy Spacek) sneaks off to a motel with her daughter’s guidance counselor (Aidan Quinn). A woman (Kathy Baker) awaiting a mastectomy lashes out at her husband (Joe Mantegna). A mother (Glenn Close) picnics at a cemetery with her daughter (the ubiquitous Dakota Fanning).
While the stories are independent of each other, some characters do overlap. The old flame from the supermarket turns up as one of the friends visited by Holly Hunter. His wife (Molly Parker) turns up at the funeral. Sissy Spacek is the mother from the story of the teenager. This overlap is not essential to the stories but it does give the later segments a greater resonance because we know a little of the back story.
Out of these situations comes moments of crisis that cannot be resolved in the time allotted by these stories. What we see is how these people react in the moment to the situation and why they might be trapped in situations that they are not capable of resolving.
The acting talent on screen is first rate and the performances consistently reflect this. If there is an “on the other hand” to Nine Lives, it is simply the “not my cup of tea” factor. This is an independent film with an experimental structure and a lack of the normal conflict and resolution of a standard plot. The real time storytelling makes for moments of dead time that some viewers might find tedious.
However, if you’re in the mood for something different, it’s worth a look.