Nine Lives is analogous to the world of films as a compendium of short stories is to that of the world of novels. Rather than focussing on a distinct storyline over the course of the movie, we’re instead presented with nine different tales of the lives of women, as they each deal with a significant moment in their lives. Banal though that description may be, it’s a spectacularly refreshing film, paring down the necessities of what it takes to make a drama and focussing it intently on nine separate vignettes, in the moments that matter to the women at the centre of each story.
Sandra (Elpidia Carrillo) is in prison and can’t talk with her daughter because the phones between the visitor booths is broken. Diana (Robin Penn) runs into an old flame in a supermarket and it’s clear that neither one of them has been able to fall out of love with the other. Holly (Lisa Gay Hamilton) returns home to confront her abusive stepfather. Sonia (Holly Hunter) is tested when she and her husband fight viciously in front of her friends. Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) is caught between her two uncommunicative parents. Lorna (Amy Brenneman) feels uncomfortable at her ex-husband’s new wife’s funeral. Ruth’s (Sissy Spacek) guilt grows as she tries to attempt an extramarital affair. Camille (Kathy Baker) lashes out at her husband before her breast cancer surgery. Maggie (Glenn Close) goes to a cemetery for a picnic with her daughter (Dakota Fanning).
On paper, perhaps not riveting plots. But in execution, each is a brilliantly crafted vignette, focusing on each of these women and conveying so much about them in such a short period of time. It’s not about the arc of the story, but about the small moments and how they reflect so much about these women, and how their relationships define their lives, for better or worse. Of course, many of the characters make appearances in the other vignettes, but it’s never done in such a way to make it feel gimmicky or trite. Those other appearances give the characters more life, and it’s clear that writer-director Roger Garcia loves each of these characters and knows everything about their lives.
Each story is performed perfectly – there’s no room in such a short amount of time for any lull in the acting, and so from start to finish, it’s a perfectly carried, never dull and completely captivating film.
It’s the cinematic equivalent of reading a Raymond Carver short story – focussed on a moment that says a lot more than you realise, and is such a rewarding and refreshing experience to watch. It’s not a disjointed anthology of tales, but a collection of tales that all work together in sequence.
It can be hard to track down, but you’re in luck as it’s available to rent on Youtube, or rent or buy from iTunes. Worth your money and your time.