Personally I dig stop-motion animation, for the simple conscious fact that there's a lot of blood and sweat going on behind the scenes just to get an object to move. You can imagine what it takes to get a character to move an arm, and you extrapolate that effort into a feature length film with a lot more things happening concurrently on screen, and you're likely to appreciate this artform a lot more, with new found respect for it.
$9.99 is an amazing piece of stop-motion animation coupled with a tremendously engaging story made up of multiple narrative threads, and a myriad of characters attempting to tackle their respective problems in life. It begins with a bang literally, where a homeless man (Geoffrey Rush) with a gun in hand, asks Jim Peck (Anthony LaPaglia) for a cigarette and a light, before launching into some really clever moments about manipulation. It's an excellent start to jolt you into realizing that this film isn't just another walk in the park, and as it plays on, you'd discover its brilliance in its commentary about life, as seen from the experiences of the residents in an apartment block.
We have a family of three, with Jim who might just need his karma checked for encountering really antagonizing moments involving death, and his two sons Dave (Samuel Johnson) and Lenny (Ben Mendelsohn), the former being unemployed and is found to be central to the narrative, and the latter being a Repo-man finding himself falling, and obsessing over the love by new neighbour and supermodel Tanita (Leeanna Walsman), who has a fetish for a hairless body. Then there's a lonely old man who finds the world constantly passing him by with nobody interested in hearing him talk a bit (well, because he's long-winded as well), finding a companion in an angel, whom he asks incessantly about Heaven. Then there's a boy who has a friend in his piggy bank, and a couple on the verge of being married having to fall out because one of them refuses to grow up.
The “$9.99” comes from the price of a catalog of books, one of which touts to hold The Meaning of Life which Dave buys. Unfortunately, the characters here seem to be caught up in living their own lives and falling victim to respective challenges life presents itself, and so every effort that Dave wants to share gets spurned, and we the audience, unfortunately, don't get to hear if there are any insights to that. But of course we all know that there's no silver bullet, and the characters here, though the course of this emotionally moving film, learn of that meaning as it applies in their own, with the old man determined to take a more proactive approach, to a connection between a father and a son, to love found and running parallel to that, a love broken because of sacrifices that one has to make, or the lack thereof, and the maturing of a young child.
I guess nobody scoffs at animation, especially one that targets the mature audience – check out that Dr Manhattan moment. I've new found respect for stop-motion animation, and for the filmmakers involved in producing this fine piece of work. The attention to detail is incredible, never at any moment hinting that they had cut some corners and compromised quality. The score too is as beautiful as it is memorable. Definitely highly recommended, and easily one of the few films I thoroughly enjoyed in the festival lineup.