Okay, I had no real interest in seeing this movie but I was so incredibly surprised! Nine Lives is not what it’s advertised, at least not from what I can tell. After a summer filled with the same third act (re. giant end of the world succubus situation) over and over again, and directors that with seemingly limited vision, this movie was absolutely refreshing. You’ll see why.
Nine Lives is a 2016 English-language French comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and written by Gwyn Lurie, Matt R. Allen, Caleb Wilson, Dan Antoniazzi and Ben Shiffrin. The film stars Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner,Robbie Amell, Cheryl Hines, Malina Weissman and Christopher Walken. The film was released by EuropaCorp on August 5, 2016, was panned by critics and has grossed over $6 million.
Protagonist: Tom Brand
Want: To get back into his human form before his body dies.
Need: To prioritize family over work life and make emotional connections.
Inciting Incident: Corporate conglomerate master Tom Brand gets into a fight with his second-in-command, Ian, on the future of the company in the midst of a thunderstorm. He is hit with lightning, knocking him down several stories off the side of his skyscraper, putting his body in a coma, while his soul inhabits a cat.
First Act Decision: Get his family to realize it’s him, so they’ll take him to the “cat whisperer” and switch him back.
Progress: He gets drunk and wreaks havoc, behaving just like Tom would, which his second wife, Lara, actually does notice.
Reversal: Lara, his daughter, Rebecca, and his son, David, aren’t catching on and are even becoming sick of the cat.
Midpoint: Cat whisperer, Christopher Walken, arrives at the house and tells Cat Tom (ha! Tomcat, I just realized that) that he has to hurry up and be a good cat to fix his familial relationships before his comatose body dies.
Reversal 2: Ian works behind David and coma-Tom’s backs to take the company public, against their wishes. Tom also learns that Lara was planning on leaving him and taking Rebecca with her.
False Climax / Low Point: Tom manages to make things okay with Lara and Rebecca in his cat form, and helps David fight against Ian, but he is unable to establish a relationship again with David. As his body is about to die completely, Tom learns David (who has been fired from the company) is planning to jump off the roof, seemingly to kill himself.
Third Act Decision: Tom decides to go after David, even though it will make him spend the rest of his life in the body of a cat.
Climax:He chases him to the roof and jumps off after his son, wanting to catch him, only to realize that David isn’t committing suicide, he’s skydiving in the suit Tom bought him. Tom’s sacrifice (or attempt at one) ends the moment he crashes into the ground and he quickly wakes in the hospital and fires Ian for attempting to take over the company.
Resolution: Tom now has a better relationship with his wife, daughter, and son. Ian is in the body of the cat.
So this movie reads as silly and ridiculous, and honestly, how could you possibly market it? The beginning shows Ian almost pushing Tom off the roof of a skyscraper. David seemingly commits suicide. Tom gets drunk on Macallan as a cat and throws a bunch of knives around the kitchen. It’s a little too dark to be a kids’ or family movie. Not to say you can’t have adult jokes in a family film, Shrek basically perfected the idea, but these aren’t verbal or veiled jokes or actions. They are flat out dark. It’s not an adult movie either, definitely filled with cutesy moments and driven by the emotional central story. Herein lies the issue the film struggles with.
This movie is REALLY funny. The moment that cat jumped off the roof, I absolutely lost it. It was so dark and ridiculous, and then to learn that David wasn’t even suicidal was insane. (Also, the company name is Firebrand, and David is played by Robbie Amell, aka Firestorm in CW’s DC universe, WHY didn’t they utilize that clear joke opportunity?!) I honestly don’t think this was meant to be a family film, but a subversive mocking of films like it, such as The Shaggy Dog. Director Barry Sonnenfeld is famous for Men In Black and the Addams Family movies. He knows comedy and Kevin Spacey has never starred in a campy family film like this before (though he’s had a couple small roles in family films and then there was that K-Pax thing). Why would he sign onto this film unless it was a favor to Sonnenfeld or pitched to him as something more meta.
Let’s pretend like I’m definitely right and the movie was meant to be more of a send-up than a heartfelt movie, if that’s the case than Sonnenfeld and the writers should’ve pushed that way further into parody. I’ve been reading this issue a lot too with romantic comedies. There are SO many specs out there right now that are romantic comedies about a woman who magically finds herself in a self-aware romantic comedy. There’s also already the film Austenland, which is really cute and fun, but like Nine Lives and all these romcom specs the problem becomes your third is still focused too much on having a genre predictable third act instead of a pushing the humor to its Nth degree like a classic parody should. If you’re writing something like this, where you’re clearly attacking a genre with self-aware parody, reacquaint yourself with some Mel Brooks! There’s a reason that those parodies are held up as the best of the best, so do your research and study the shit out of them!
Now, maybe I’m wrong and this movie was meant to be a heartfelt family comedy, and Kevin Spacey only agreed to do it because he could basically film it on a green screen in his apartment (the amount of green screen in this film is a joke in itself that I thoroughly enjoyed). Regardless, the dark/adult humor and heartfelt core make marketing this movie incredibly difficult. So it’s no surprise that this movie is bombing at the box office. Even if Suicide Squad hadn’t also opened this weekend that still would’ve happened. When you’re writing, you better be asking yourself how the movie will be marketed and that should show in your logline too! How would you sum Nine Lives up in one sentence?
Business-centric Tom Brand is forced to get to know his family all over again before his comatose body dies, after his soul enters that of a cat.
That’s pretty difficult. The logline on IMDb is:
A stuffy businessman finds himself trapped inside the body of his family’s cat.
Of course, this doesn’t set up the stakes or even attempt to include the film’s often dry humor.
This movie would still make my summer lighter, even if it is genuinely bad. After Ghostbusters, which I loved by the shooting and editing drove me crazy watching it, and Suicide Squad, which had a great cast but a writer/director afraid to do anything interesting with all the amazing visuals already set up for him, it was so refreshing to watch a movie where the director made visual choices and knew the proper way to shoot them. Maybe that’s the film school kid in me taking over, weirdly, but I was so grateful for a clean 90 minute film that made me laugh easily and was shot well.
If this were a script I was working on, I would push for the most ridiculous humor possible. What would be your writerly approach?