In this day and age of computer animated films crammed with celebrity voices “$9.99” is a refreshing, inventive, quirky, not-of-this-world yet very much grounded in it, animated film that plays with our expectations of the animated form. Based on characters and short stories by Israeli author Etgar Keret, “9.99,” an Israeli/Australian co-production, utilizes the old fashioned technique of stop-motion animation, usually associated with kid-friendly fare. Although the film looks like a cross between an episode of “Davey and Goliath” and a “Wallace & Gromit” film, “$9.99” tells a series of interlocking stories about loneliness, the search for meaning and the need for love. The stories it tells combine the “here and now” with the fantastic, while not breaking our suspension of disbelief. The result is a wonderful, lo-tech expansion of what animation can accomplish. The “sets” and “costumes” are remarkably detailed and evocative of middle to lower middle class life. The film’s out-dated, clunky form of animation displays a look, beauty and depth all its own. We can see the artifice of the hand painted brush strokes across the figures’ faces while, at the same time, still become drawn into their stories.
The characters live in and around the same apartment building in Sydney Australia and have inter-locking lives, although they are not always aware of it. The characters include a “repo” man, who justifies his work as being like Robin Hood in reverse, a father who wishes his two grown sons had amounted to more in life, a “stoner” who is enabled by three tiny “Devils-on-shoulder”- like contemporaries, and a super model who likes her men smooth (The ultimate, literal depiction of the latter is one of the film’s most bizarre images). There is also a homeless man who sprouts angels’ wings, a boy who loves his piggy bank, his teacher who has just left her loser boyfriend, a suicide, a murder, splattered blood and dolphin aquatics. Believe me, it all makes sense in context.
Oh yes, we cannot get away from it. The film does feature celebrity voices, by Geoffrey Rush and Anthony LaPaglia. They are both quite good simply because they are there to serve the story and not to be unbearably wonderful.
“9.99” is an original, bizarre, off-beat, alternately funny and sad, touching film featuring characters I will not soon forget…and they’re puppets!
“$9.99” is now playing at the Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema, 143 E. Houston Street.
$9.99, Director Tatia Rosenthal, Regent Releasing, 2009
82 minutes, rated R