Jim Peck (voiced by Anthony LaPaglia) walks out of a coffee shop one morning and tries to hail a taxi to take him to work, but to no avail. As he stands about waiting, a homeless man (Geoffrey Rush) approaches him and asks for a light, and then a cigarette to be lit. Caught off guard, Jim furnishes him with the tobacco, but then the man produces a gun and asks him for a dollar for a cup of coffee. Jim is alarmed and hands over his wallet, but the man refuses it and tells him the firearm isn't even his, all he wants is the dollar. Jim warily says he would feel manipulated if he did so, and then the vagrant commits suicide with the pistol.
Except the vagrant is actually an angel, so shows up later on, quite soon after in fact, as if nothing had happened, and it appears the police were not even involved, so for a start in $9.99 you're left in a state of wondering what this could possibly be about, or what it was trying to tell you. As it progressed, it unfolded as a number of loosely connected tales of the residents of this Australian apartment block, and as it was stop motion animation director Talia Rosenthal implemented to relate her yarn, this quickly began to resemble a more serious version of the little-remembered British nineties cartoon series Craptson Villas, only with fewer vomit jokes. It was actually an adaptation of short stories by acclaimed Israeli writer Etgar Keret, who worked on the screenplay with Rosenthal.
So you would imagine he was satisfied with the way they were arranged here considering he had a hand - two hands, even - in creating the movie, but it remained one of those works which looked as if it would have been better experienced on the page, because to judge by the stuffy, airless presentation here, the characters looking as if they were not so much in stop motion as slow motion, it was difficult to see the appeal. Those characters had a similar appearance to boot, meaning you might find yourself confused as to who was meant to be who: at least three male characters were well nigh identical until the plot found a way of distinguishing them. It was peopled by unsatisfied souls, whether they were a lonely pensioner everyone finds too boring to talk to, down to a young boy who is saving up for an action figure until he realises he'll have to smash his now-beloved piggy bank to get at his savings.
In the middle was a man who is facing the end of his engagement to the woman he adores thanks to his recreational drug use and Jim's two sons, the elder of whom falls in love with a supermodel and the younger of whom might have the key to the message of the piece when he is sent a book on The Meaning of Life, which everyone here finds outwith their grasp, even him and he has a guide to it to read. Meanwhile the angel boorishly insults and intimidates the rest of the characters aside from the old man who wants to see him fly with those wings, leading to a bit of a mishap which might be a hint there was a comedy aspiration to the proceedings in some capacity. Despite those reservations, $9.99 does contain some genuinely arresting moments and imagery, and its eventual conclusion, that there is no one meaning of life to be used universally and you must work out what it is for you personally, is quite provocative and even wise. It was just that this was a hard film to get along with, and didn't so much tie all its threads up as leave them dangling in mid-air. Music by Christopher Bowen.