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Summer savings: Two reviews for $9.99
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Summer savings: Two reviews for $9.99

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

$9.99 Now Playing

As the closing credits rolled, I felt confused. I stared at the screen while white words floated up from bottom to top. Steven broke into my trance, asking, 'What did you think of that?' I could only shake my head and say, 'I'm not sure. I have to think this one over.'

One day and lots of pondering later and I'm still not sure what I think about director Tatia Rosenthal's ennui-oozing feature film debut. On one hand, $9.99 is a clever, dark look at the futile tendency of humans to search for meaning in life. On the other hand, it's a self-indulgent whine about the futile tendency of humans who search for meaning in life.

$9.99 is set in a latter-day Aussie apartment building. At the center of the rich cast of characters is Dave Peck, an unemployed 20-something living at home who stumbles upon the offer of a lifetime: for a mere $9.99, he can purchase a booklet that explains, in easy-to-follow terms, the reason for being.

$9.99 DELIGHTFULLY SAVVY AND SELF-AWARE
$9.99 is a savvy film peppered with interesting characters. Some of these characters are firmly rooted in reality while others spring to cinematic life as little more than ethereal suggestions of real human beings.

A world-weary guardian angel makes his way through the day bumming smokes and cups of coffee in odd ways while his charge, an elderly guy, just wants someone to talk to. A financially challenged magician lives down the hall and is constantly harassed by the repo man. Peck's brother is in lust with the supermodel in the penthouse, and he's willing to go to great lengths for her. And Ron on the first floor would love to marry his fiancé if it weren't so much work and if the 2-inch-tall drunken skate thugs weren't so much fun to get high with.

These characters occupy an animated world that reflects the somber tone of their aimless journey through life. The clay figures are coarse and the color pallet is muted. The setting is lifeless because these lives are lethargic and arbitrary. Altering their own perception is the only hope for each character to break the cycle of self-loathing, much as I've found in real life. However, not all these characters get things figured out.

This little movie is delightfully self-aware. The art direction perfectly captures the emotional themes and the disjointed narrative rings true even if it's a bit exaggerated (call it dramatic license).

PREDICTABLE $9.99 A WASTED OPPORTUNITY
$9.99 is self-involved tripe created by a dedicated team of filmmakers with just enough talent to be dangerous.

A lot of time was wasted on the stop-motion animation and art direction. The result is an animated film without purpose, and a wasted opportunity to create something visually distinctive for adults (like The Triplets of Belleville or Persepolis did).

The narrative wanders and the vignettes read like one-liners. The characters are predictably unpredictable and mostly unlikeable. If Ron wants to waste his day playing video games with losers, he should do so. The fact that said losers are 2 inches tall doesn't change that. If Lenny wants to shave from his toes to his nose, he should do so. The fact that his girlfriend is the hottest babe ever sculpted from clay doesn't change that (she also has some fairly serious control issues).

We're supposed to believe there's some larger truth in all this shadowy suggestion of humanity and humanity's search for ultimate singular truth. Though I can live in an alternative universe for a while, I must be able to connect that alternative universe to my own life at some point. And that's the problem. I just didn't see much in $9.99 that relates to my actual life.

There you have it. I've poured out my love-hate relationship with $9.99. Do with it what you will. I will admit, though, if a film causes me this much ambivalence, it must have something going on.

Contact the critic at scott@sgn.org.

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