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Nine Lives (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Starring Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, K. Callan, Elpidia Carrillo, Glenn Close, Stephen Dillane, Dakota Fanning, William Fichtner, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Holly Hunter, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Mary Kay Place, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Lawrence Pressman, Aidan Quinn, Miguel Sandoval, Amanda Seyfried, Sissy Spacek and Robin Wright Penn.

Screenplay by Rodrigo Garcia.

Directed by Rodrigo Garcia.

Distributed by Magnolia Pictures. 114 minutes. Rated R.

Most of the time, moviemakers want to be novelists. This is not the case in the films of Rodrigo Garcia. He tells his cinematic tales like a really good short story collection. Rodrigo, who has previously worked this style in Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, Ten Tiny Love Stories and Fathers and Sons is very comfortable with the style, and Nine Lives is his best work yet.

As the title suggests, this movie takes short stops in the lives of nine diverse and seemingly very different women. The camera swoops down upon them, observes a short, trying period of their lives. Each short film is shot on Steadicam in a single long take, there are no cutaways, no time changes, the audience just eavesdrops on ten to fifteen minutes in the life of these ladies and then cuts away to the next experience. The stories are quiet and thoughtful. There are no big explosions, very little action (in the traditional sense), just conversation and stellar acting.

The film starts with Sandra (Elpidia Carrillo), who is in jail and trying to be on her best behavior so that she can see her daughter, but then has a small malfunction unleash all her anger. Diana (Robin Wright Penn) is a married and pregnant woman who runs into her married ex-lover (Jason Isaacs) in the grocery store and is shocked to find that there is still an undeniable spark between them. Holly (Marcia Gay Harden) is a bitter and emotionally bruised woman who finally goes home to confront her father.

Sonia (Holly Hunter) is a woman who is horrified when her boyfriend exposes a very private matter to friends who have invited them to dinner. Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) is a teenaged girl who is staying at home rather than going away to college to help her fed-up mother (Sissy Spacek) care for her invalid father (Ian McShane). The mother, Ruth, is later subject of her own story when she plans an affair with another man (Aidan Quinn).

Lorna (Amy Brenneman) is a divorced woman who causes a stir when she shows up at the funeral of her ex-husband's wife. Camille (Kathy Baker) is a woman who is in the hospital for breast cancer and takes out the anger over her deteriorating body on her husband (Joe Mantegna). Maggie (Glenn Close) is a mother who has a picnic in a cemetery with her daughter (Dakota Fanning).

There is a lot of interesting continuity to the stories and several characters recur in different stories; the prison guard (Miguel Sandoval) turns out to be the father of the angry woman returning home, that angry daughter (Harden) is also the nurse in the hospital caring for the cancer patient, the former lover in the grocery store (Isaacs) later is the rich friend who plays host to the squabbling couple, his wife later appears at the funeral, and when the invalid's wife (Spacek) is contemplating an affair, she stumbles upon the arrest of the prisoner (Carillo).

It all has an elegant, almost cyclical structure -- the women's lives are all very different and yet their problems are in many ways the same. All of them are mourning some lost opportunity and wasted potential in their lives, the compromises that they have made to come to a place in their lives which they inevitably never wanted or expected to occupy. (9/05)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: September 30, 2005.


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