Eric D. Snider

Nine Lives

Rodrigo Garcia's first film was "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her," a series of vignettes that introduced us to several Los Angeles women in various emotional situations. The stories were all well-acted, and the storytelling was crisp. Each segment felt like a complete short story.

Garcia's new work is "Nine Lives," a series of nine little stories that are not complete. They are excerpts or clips, seldom with resolution, usually with acting that is solid but unspectacular. Just as we're growing fond of someone, the vignette ends and we're on to the next woman. It's nine orphan scenes desperately in need of movies to take them home.

What is somewhat interesting is Garcia's choice to shoot each segment as one long, unbroken take. The stories are not, therefore, complete sagas being told in 10 minutes, but 10 actual, uninterrupted minutes. This is a showcase for the actresses -- Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Sissy Spacek and Robin Wright Penn among them -- and it effectively draws the viewer in, making the action feel immediate and intimate. But this, again, turns out to be a drawback when the scene is yanked away and something new is brought on in its place.

Matters of mortality are at the center, with birth and death as running themes. The women are connected thematically to some extent, and figures from previous scenes occasionally show up in others, suggesting more interconnectedness.

But I have to ask: To what end? What's accomplished here? What is shown or taught? I see some good acting, a few interesting characters, an occasional glimpse of excellent writing -- all components of a great film, yes, but more components are necessary before the film is whole.

Grade: C

Rated R, some harsh profanity, some sexual dialogue

1 hr., 48 min.

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