Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “The Nines”

Dear Frank,

The trouble with Netflix is that as the quality of its library improves, the stockpile of “interesting-sounding movies that I might try to watch when I have some spare time and feel like it” threatens to explode and consume a human soul.

Mentioning this is a half-assed way of apologizing to Dogtooth, which I swear to God I am gonna see at some point, and also leads to my explanation for why instead of watching Dogtooth this weekend, I watched the little-seen Ryan Reynolds flick The Nines — it was literally above Dogtooth in the queue.

The Nines also isn’t in Danish and has Ryan Reynolds in it. But only a shallow person might point that out.

It's only gratuitous if it doesn't illustrate my point.

This is a really weird movie, Frank! Really really weird! Weird and ridiculous and interesting enough to justify me telling you about it. The basic premise is this: Ryan Reynolds plays three different guys in three different sections of the movie, in three different versions of reality, I think? They all overlap and connect, except when they don’t, and only makes sense because of the number nine? So full of sense, this movie. So full of sense.

Set up as three parts, we start with Ryan as a Famous TV Actor Guy who gets arrested for torching his house (accidentally) and getting high on crack (on purpose) and crashing his car (probably an accident but who knows). Unlike other Famous TV Actor Guys with crack problems, Ryan doesn’t get fired from his job and embark upon a multi-city stage tour (ugh I went for the Charlie Sheen joke I feel gross) — instead, he gets put under house arrest, under the careful supervision of his PR agent, played by Melissa McCarthy! Yay for Melissa McCarthy!

Melissa McCarthy, you might be aware, has been a steadily employed actress for over ten years, but because she was super-funny in Bridesmaids Hollywood actually gives a shit about her now. This movie was made in the pre-give-a-shit days, but she’s delightful in this movie — equal amounts of kind and catty to Actor Ryan, who isn’t thrilled with being trapped in the house of an out-of-town screenwriter working on a TV pilot, despite the fact that it is a super-nice house.

Can a house be sexy? This one sure can.

Actor Ryan is crazy amounts of bored, the only potential bright spot being Hope Davis, a stay-at-home mom who brings her baby monitor over one afternoon during naptime to wine and flirt with him. There’s a brief dash of musical number here, because this movie needed to stop making sense sooner or later, and a lot of Hope trying to remind Actor Ryan of “who he really is.” This is around when he finds a Post-It that says “Look for the nines” on a counter — and he notices that there are lots of nines around him, in newspapers and so forth.

Actor Ryan starts seeing visions of himself-but-not-himself, and starts thinking he’s going crazy, and meanwhile Melissa McCarthy has moved into the house to keep an eye on him and they’re having a really fun time hanging out — but she also clearly knows more than she’s saying? Finally, Ryan confronts her and threatens to leave the house and violate his house arrest, and she begs him not to, and he asks what will happen, and she tells him she doesn’t know, so he goes ahead and crosses the line that triggers the alarm in his tracking anklet, but instead of setting off the alarm and making the cops come, there’s a nuclear explosion?

The fun thing about telling you about this movie, Frank, is that making it sound strange isn’t too much of a reach.

Post-BOOM, we go to part two of the movie, which is a faux-reality show following Ryan Reynolds, who is now a gay Hollywood writer working on a TV pilot. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s because he’s the very writer whose house Actor Ryan was staying in–

Oh, shit, it’s worth mentioning that this movie makes even less sense if you don’t know that it’s written and directed by John August, whose writing credits include Go, Charlie’s Angels and Big Fish. Not only is Writer Ryan totally based on John August (and according to the internet, this section of the movie is loosely based on his experience developing the short-lived drama D.C.) but that super-nice house was John August’s actual house. SUPER-NICE HOUSE. Being a Hollywood screenwriter sounds awesome. We should look into doing that, Frank.

John August and Ryan Reynolds. John August is the one on the right, if you couldn't tell.

So Writer Ryan is going through the usual bullshit of negotiating with a studio exec — Hope Davis again — to get “his show” made. The show’s logline is “Rosemary’s toddler,” starring an evil little girl played by Elle Fanning and Melissa McCarthy (yay!) as herself. At this point in Melissa McCarthy’s career (the movie was made in 2007), she’s best known for being a regular on Gilmore Girls, and she’s also Writer Ryan’s bestie — until, that is, the studio tells him that they want a different (hotter) actress in the role and he caves, agreeing to recast her with a nice young lady from E.R. I don’t recognize.

At that point, Melissa McCarthy is no longer Writer Ryan’s bestie. With good reason. To deal with this kind of emotional trauma, Writer Ryan spends a lot of time in internet cafes around town playing a video game that looks like The Sims. That is actually important later.

Still being tailed by this TV crew, Writer Ryan heads to the upfronts in New York for the announcement of his show… except that when he gets there, he finds out he no longer has a show. Whoops! The E.R. hottie’s other pilot got picked up, y’see, and that kills Writer Ryan’s show.

Writer Ryan storms out onto the street, furious, talking to the reality show cameras — until a passerby asks him who he’s talking to, and it’s revealed that there was no reality show, it was all in Writer Ryan’s head. And then this happens:

Totally normal thing that happens in movies all the time.

And that’s the end of Part 2!

Part three is pretty dull, Frank, so I’m not gonna go into detail. Basically, a new Ryan, Video Game Developer Ryan, is out in the woods with his wife (Melissa McCarthy YOU GO GIRL) and daughter (Elle Fanning, being less creepy and weird than she was in part 2). When they’re ready to leave, the car won’t start, so VGD Ryan leaves them behind to go for help. Instead of finding help, though, he finds Hope Davis, hiking like a hippy chick, and she offers to help but instead drugs his water and starts yelling at him about “who he really is” and then we FINALLY get to the point about the fucking nines already! Hooray!

Ready? Here you go: Ryan is a Nine — which is to say, a god, who created the Earth and has been hanging out for the last four thousand years reincarnating himself as different characters. But he has gotten lost in exploring them, so Hope, also a Nine, and some other Nines have been trying to extract him. It is actually framed like an intervention. Like you might have for a friend who played too much World of Warcraft.

Anyways, Ryan realizes they’re right and decides to split for a higher dimension, leaving behind Melissa McCarthy and Elle, who in what’s declared to be “the best of all possible worlds” are making pancakes with Melissa McCarthy’s real husband in John August’s awesome house. THE END.

I’m still not sure what to think about The Nines, Frank. Part of me respects it for taking a unique approach to the idea of writer-as-creator-of-worlds; when you sit down and connect the dots, what you get is a strangely metaphysical musing on the creative process. And the performances are really good, given that each adult actor is creating three unique characters each — Hope Davis especially kicks ass at this.

But there are some basic facts, like when a writer/director casts Ryan Reynolds as himself, he’s pretty much doomed to make something quasi-masturbatory. And while there might be a part of you that wants to believe that this whole movie wasn’t an idea John August got after playing The Sims too much, there’s the other part of you which realizes that that’s probably the case.

Ultimately, Frank, I enjoyed watching The Nines — while it often tipped into ridiculousness, it had plenty of interesting ideas. And having a lot of interesting ideas is almost as good as making a point.

Love,
Liz

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About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller, based in Los Angeles, is a writer for the screen and the web, her work including G4's Attack of the Show and the tech blog GigaOM. She also co-hosts the podcast Timey Wimey TV, contributes to the video curation site Here's Some Awesome, and tells her friend Frank about stuff at Liz Tells Frank.

Posted on June 8, 2011, in All the Spoilers, Movies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. This movie has been in my queue for awhile (purely based on the fact that Ryan Reynolds is in it) and it is way weirder than I had imagined in my wildest dreams. I am way more interested in watching it now that I know how bizarre it is!

  2. Nice write-up! THE NINES is a pretty good movie that was in theaters for about one contractually obligated minute and then vanished from view. Interesting story, great acting and a commercially dead-in-the-water confusing concept. INCEPTION it ain’t. Hopefully more folks will find it in on Netflix.

    That said, DOGTOOTH is so much better.

    Fun fact: I saw THE NINES the same week I saw THE TEN, probably both at the Laemmle Sunset 5. THE TENS, a comedic riff on the Ten Commandments, is another little-seen, pretty good movie with lots of famous people. Made by a bunch of guys from the comedy troupe The State. Yet also not as good as DOGTOOTH.

    Lastly, if you like little-seen triptychs from 2007, I’ve also got to recommend THE SIGNAL, which is likely on Netflix. It’s a sci-fi/horror flick with three connected stories, directed by three different directors. Part 1 is scary and brilliant, part 2 is scary and funny, and part 3 is…burdened with the responsibility of coming up with an ending. Two out of three ain’t bad. Well worth seeing.

    But seriously, watch DOGTOOTH.

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