We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
You won’t learn the meaning of life in $9.99, a stop-motion adaptation of the short stories of Etgar Keret whose title refers to the price of a booklet that purports to reveal humanity’s biggest existential mystery. In fact, unless you’re a fan of Keret’s, you likely won’t get much out of this odd, R-rated trifle at all; its look and surrealistic interwoven story lines about residents of an apartment building feel like little more than a novelty without the visual or emotional staying power of even kid-intended animation (see: Up). The most affecting subplot involves Albert (Barry Otto), a lonely old man so desperate for conversation he’s thrilled when telemarketers call, who eventually finds companionship with a gruff angel (Geoffrey Rush). Other tendrils include a boy who becomes so enamored with his always-smiling piggy bank that he refuses to break it; a slacker (Joe Edgerton) who becomes depressed and parties with three miniature men when his fiancée leaves him; a supermodel (Leeanna Walsman) who likes her men hairless and has a creepy collection of chairs; and a frustrated father, Jim (Anthony LaPaglia), who wishes his grown sons would do more with their lives. Director Tatia Rosenthal’s feature debut offers photorealistic backgrounds while its characters look like creviced, mottled wood figures whose unattractiveness is somewhat distracting. (There’s also nudity, which is just weird.) The script leans heavily on melancholy, and though there are moments when you’re sympathetic to the characters’ sadness, none of their stories are so gripping that you forget about the film’s style and lose yourself in the drama. One of Jim’s sons, the unemployed Dave (Samuel Johnson), is the person who buys the $9.99 answer to the meaning of life, and he punctuates his reading with, “Wow. Wow. Wow.” You may utter the same a time or two throughout the film, but your overall impression will probably be more like “meh.”