An animated world for only '$9.99'
If the meaning of life could be had for less than $10, it makes perfect sense that it would be discovered first by clay figures in a stop-motion animated film. Many of us grew up on the lessons of “Davey and Goliath.’’ Plus, who’s closer to God than Mr. Bill?
In “$9.99,’’ first-time feature director Tatia Rosenthal draws divine inspiration from the popular short stories of Etgar Keret, whose imaginative, irreverent ruminations have earned him comparisons to Kurt Vonnegut, Franz Kafka, and Woody Allen. Keret’s film resumé includes codirecting 2007’s “Jellyfish’’ with his wife, Shira Geffen. The result of his screenwriting collaboration with Rosenthal is a movie that entertains and enlightens without being preachy - in fact, most of its beliefs are strenuously ambiguous; that’s a key part of the joke.
This latest film’s title refers to the cost of a mail-order booklet that promises an “easy to follow’’ explanation of mankind’s reason for being. Dave, a directionless young Australian (voiced by Samuel Johnson), latches onto the book looking for an epiphany but soon discovers his biggest challenge is getting anyone to let him reveal its wisdom.
Rosenthal’s intricately sculpted city is also home to Dave’s brother Lenny (Ben Mendelsohn) and their father, Jim (Anthony LaPaglia). Lenny provides the film’s creepiest surreal moments when he falls under the spell of a supermodel (Leeanna Walsman) who collects boyfriends and furniture, which turns out to be the same activity. Meanwhile Jim, a cynical businessman with single-dad issues, is forever changed by a tense, riveting encounter with a vagrant (Geoffrey Rush) who reappears later as a surly guardian angel.
Assorted other characters flesh out the neighborhood and provide intersecting story lines that range from mundane to extraordinary: There’s a stoner struggling to hang onto both his girlfriend and his immaturity, a down-on-his-luck magician, an old man thrown in with that devilishly sardonic aforementioned angel, and a boy who treasures his ceramic piggy bank too much to let it be destroyed for its monetary contents (how’s that for a spiritual metaphor?).
“$9.99’’ does not attempt to weave one seamless tapestry from all these threads. There is no big revelation, no sum that makes sense of every part. In the end, it’s just a collection of lumps of clay, some more interesting than others. Another astute metaphor from the makers of “$9.99.’’
Janice Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.