Nine Lives is not a feature length film. Instead, it’s a collection of short films pretending to be a feature length movie. Where a brilliant piece of work like Crash takes separate stories and separate lives and weaves them together into a single, complex tapestry of deep, emotional connection, Nine Lives takes separate stories and separate lives and tries to shoehorn them all together through the thinnest of lame, unrelated coincidences. Nine Lives does not work as a single, cohesive film, but looked at separately a few of the brief character shorts contained within it are occasionally good.
The film tells nine different stories of nine different women facing different challenges in their relationships and their lives. Though, since this is a film about and written from the perspective of the uber-woman, maybe those two things are one and the same. Women, much more than men, tend to define themselves by their relationships; or at least that’s the message Nine Lives feels like it’s delivering. Each of the nine separate stories told here examines a woman in some sort of crisis. One is the brief story of a woman in prison (without any of the fun of a good women in prison movie) and her struggle to stay in contact with her daughter. There’s a look at a young woman caring for an invalid father, another takes an obligatory look at a woman with breast cancer on her way to surgery, and so on. If you’ve ever watched the Lifetime channel, you’ve got a good feel for the sorts of brief, moment in the life of stories writer/director Rodrigo Garcia is telling here.
Actually, the fact that this was written and directed by a man is a little weird. Rodrigo is no stranger to female-focused stories. After all he’s the guy behind the fantastic Angelina Jolie movie Gia. But he’s also the guy behind Body Shots, which ought to give you some idea of his normal mode of operation. Yes, he’s good at capturing things from a female perspective, but he also has a thing for gratuitous nudity and hot lesbian action. Normally, that’d be enough to make me a diehard fan, but his usual penchant for estrogen mixed with bared skin is missing in Nine Lives. He’s grown up and gone all Meredith Baxter-Birney. What a shame.
The short stories told in Nine Lives aren’t particularly impressive but some of the performances are, and that’s what sells it. There are exceptions, such as a really putrid turn by Epida Carillo as a laughably overwrought, imprisoned mother and an idiotic performance from the now sickeningly anorexic Robin Wright Penn sporting the world’s worst fake pregnant belly. But it’s offset by some really wonderful work from great talents like Glen Close, Jason Isaacs, Holly Hunter, and Joe Mantegna.
I think the real problem here is that this is a script more suited for stage than film. Much of it feels like a piece of solid community theater, and it doesn’t deserve the high-class treatment that’s been given it. A few great performances keep this series of forced vignettes from being a total throwaway, but a little dose of Rodrigo’s trademark lesbo-action might have done more to keep audiences awake. Though I guess the old girl-on-girl Rodrigo isn’t entirely gone. There is the title to consider. What has nine lives? A cat, and another word for a cat is…