Nine Lives

October, 2005, Drama

In 2001, writer/director Rodrigo Garcia, (son of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize winning Argentinean writer) made a film entitled "10 tiny love stories" an assembly of 10 monologues by different actresses, each portraying a woman reminiscing about a man who'd had a significant impact on her life. Garcia has now expanded that structure, providing 9 vignettes here also built around the reactions of individual women to often small but important moments in their lives. In one, a woman comforts her former husband at the funeral of his second wife; in another, a jailed mother reacts to the system's failure to provide her allotted visiting time with a young daughter. A third examines a gently collapsing tryst, yet another the initiation of a bitter fight which erupts between a couple in front of their best friends. In each segment, Garcia's script provides often mesmerizing portraits of quite different women and the actresses he selects to play them succeed in doing a remarkable job of bringing characters to life in the 10-15 minute time span allotted to each. Glenn Close, Sissy Spaeck and Holly Hunter are among the most recognizable members of this group, but Lisa Gay Hamilton, freed from her annoyingly bland role in the television series "The Practice" crackles as a distraught women contemplating violence to herself as a result of childhood sexual abuse, while Amy Brenneman, (of TV’s "Judging Amy") displays a convincingly hard-edged bitchiness as the woman attending the funeral of her ex-husband's latest wife.

There are a host of small but well-developed male roles too, featuring fine actors like Adian Quinn as a charming seducer, "Deadwood's Ian McShane as a doting, wheelchair-bound Dad and Joe Mantegna as a supportive husband helping his wife deal with an impending mastectomy--but they're fundamentally employed in these pieces as props, allowing the screenwriter to more sharply present the female character in each episode. In a couple of instances, (Robin Penn Wright meeting an old flame, Glenn Close chatting with her daughter while visiting a gravesite) the format works quite well, but most of these fleeting examinations of crisis points come off as highbrow soap opera. Within such a limited time frame, Garcia's screenplay has to make its points too quickly, which necessitates monologues that often have the effect of hitting the audience over the head. There's obvious skill at work here; Garcia's gets superb performances from his ensemble cast and his ability to write dialogue well-tailored to his various story lines is first rate. But overall, he's done little more than provide marvelous showcases for a handful of talented actresses. When he has the patience to really develop a story with sufficient attention to detail to permit fully developed characters to worm their way into an audience's affections, he may well make something really worth watching.

The verdict? A big structural gamble supplies some individually brilliant bits and pieces, but the whole adds up to much less than the sum of the parts.


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