Unemployed Dave Peck (Samuel Johnson) still lives at home with his dad, Jim (Anthony LaPaglia) in an apartment block where his neighbours are a mixed bunch. Pensioner Albert (Barry Otto) is visited by what seems an angel, who in a previous life was a homeless man (Geoffrey Rush) and retired, broke magician Marcus Parcus (Roy Billing) is getting repossessed. Loser Ron (Joel Edgerton) is at odds with his girlfriend and keeps company with three miniature beer swilling students who live in his room. Dave's brother, Lenny (Ben Mendelsohn) is chasing supermodel Tanita (Leeanna Walsman) who likes her men hairlessly smooth.
Review by Louise Keller:
Looking for the silver lining is what is at the heart of Israeli filmmaker Tatia Rosenthal's stop motion animated film, in which a wonderful voice cast inhabits an unexpected and unusual group of oddball characters. It's a satirical work, based on a short story by Etgar Keret and whose title describes the cost of a mail-order booklet that promises the answer to the riddle of the meaning of life. For the most part, Rosenthal's vision is one that presents a cynical point of view, with the exception of her unemployed 28 year old protagonist Dave (voiced by Samuel Johnson), whose hopeful optimism leap frogs to others in his apartment block. It's a challenging film with plenty of merit as a handful of unrelated stories criss-cross and involve us in a mountainous thought provoking journey in which we ponder the meaning of happiness. But it's challenging, in that for all its good points, I often found the characters hard to follow. The Australian accents also seem incongruous in the context of characters that are more at home in Israel than in Australia.
'Nice guys always finish last,' is the philosophy of Anthony LaPaglia's middle-aged, balding Jim, who sees the world through the rind of a lemon. The striking, opening sequence in which Jim is confronted by Geoffrey Rush's hobo in search for a cigarette and a cup of coffee, is a real attention grabber, and my personal favourite. It confronts us with many issues simultaneously, leaving us wondering what can possibly come next. We are then introduced to a number of different characters including a Lothario (voiced by Ben Mendelsohn) who will go to extreme lengths to impress his model girlfriend who likes her men smooth as a baby's bottom, a magician whose furniture is being repossessed ('Robin Hood in reverse'), a soccer-mad youngster whose dream to own a new action figure changes as he gets attached to his piggy bank and a dope-loving layabout (voiced by Joel Edgerton) who treats his miniature fantasy figures with beer from an eye-dropper. Claudia Karvan voices a pregnant school teacher at odds with her predicament.
Geoffrey Rush's hobo (who inherits wings) is the character that makes us sit up and take notice. After all, he is the one who thinks heaven is like the Sunshine Coast. The handful of narratives flit from one to the other and occasionally the lives of the characters intersect. It's a striking film that proudly stands up wanting to be counted, and for the discerning movie-lover whose interest goes beyond Hollywood mainstream, one that will be appreciated.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Animation is the cinematic tool of creativity and invention, used where live action is simply not enough. In this digital FX age, of course, the animator has to have something even more special than ever before, to out-imagine the technology. And what this is, is on display in $9.99, a stop motion animation that delivers unnervingly real characters - made of silicon. But this is achieved not by perfect physical representation, which in fact is the last thing you can say about the figures. It's the team's ability to capture the essence of each character and their human attributes in a much deeper, more subtle fashion, often by the smallest gesture. A clever and sophisticated technique used for making the eyelids flexible also helps; surprising how important these are in conveying complexity or subtlety of emotion in a close up.
Adding to the easy access for audiences to these pathetically human characters are the superbly used voices of some of Australia's finest talent. It's quite amusing to fit the voices to the characters as you watch the film, although I did get a bit bogged down at times early in the film. Geoffrey Rush makes a great entrance as a homeless man wanting a cigarette - and a dollar - as he approaches Jim (Anthony LaPaglia) outside the apartments. This is one of the film's best conceived and written scenes; at once edgy and touching, universal and emotionally direct.
Ben Mendelsohn is characteristically striking as Lenny and Anthony LaPaglia is wonderfully melancholy as the father whose wife ran off with another man.
And there is the film's main flaw - the Jewish melancholy and downbeat humour that oozes from the original writing is overlaid with an Australian idiom, thanks ironically to the great cast, in a transplant that doesn't really take. The rejection is propelled by the placelessness of the setting, in which the architecture seems of European influence but the taxis are salvaged from Manhattan, and the shops and signs convey no-place. The lack of a specific cultural setting robs the work of its resonances; it diminishes the value of the many well observed antics of its characters because they simply have no context.
All the same, it is grappling with the meaning of life, which of course you can discover in one of those $9.99 books .... It's engaging, even though it is chaotic and patchy and episodic and conflicted about what it wants to be - a colourful one night stand or a long term relationship.
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CAST: Voices of Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPagila, Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, Barry Otto, Claudia Karvan, Leeanna Walsman, Tom Budge, Jamie Katsamatsas, Brian Meegan, Roy Billing, David Field
PRODUCER: Amir Harel, Emile Sherman
DIRECTOR: Tatia Rosenthal
SCRIPT: Tatia Rosnethal, Etgar Keret
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Richard Bradshaw, James Lewis, Susan Stitt
MUSIC: Christopher Bowen
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Melinda Doring
RUNNING TIME: 74 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 20, 2009