In this Australian-Israeli co-production, based on very short stories by popular Israeli writer Etgar Keret, we get glimpses of a small group of people made of clay who are either stumbling through their lives or trying to make some sense out of it all. This is also the first film to show R-rated puppet sex since “Team America: World Police,” and it’s a hoot.
While we’re being joyfully spoiled these days by the eye-popping computer-generated animation from Pixar and DreamWorks and Fox, there’s always going to be room for that good old-fashioned style that so many of us grew up on: stop-motion clay animation. You know, Gumby and Pokey and, in more recent years, that other pliable team, Wallace and Gromit.
The process is simple, and painstaking. Move the characters, shoot a frame, move the characters again, shoot another frame. The results are somehow wonderfully wonky, something close to surreal.
In this Australian-Israeli co-production, based on very short stories by popular Israeli writer Etgar Keret, we get glimpses of a small group of people made of clay who are either stumbling through their lives or trying to make some sense out of it all as they intertwine and sometimes bounce off of each other.
Jim (voice of Anthony LaPaglia) is a sad businessman in a rumpled suit who, long after the fact, hasn’t gotten over his wife leaving him. One of his sons, Lenny (Ben Mendelsohn), works for a rude repossession man; the other, Dave (Samuel Johnson), can’t hang onto a job and is fascinated by some junk mail that promises “the secret of life” for only $9.99.
The central apartment complex is peopled by folks who are lonely (the retiree Albert), proud (the in-debt magician Marcus), and imaginative (young Zach, who thinks himself to be a star soccer player). Touching all of their lives is an unnamed homeless man who might as well be called Angel (Geoffrey Rush) because he sprouts a big pair of wings and, for all we know, is an angel.
Using characters done up in impressionistic style and a nice use of color on their skin (but with mouths that disarmingly look simply stuck on their faces) the film mixes funny flashes of whimsy with serious issues, shows some men and women in strife over commitment in their relationships, and others madly in love (or lust) in theirs. This, in fact, is the first film to show R-rated puppet sex since “Team America: World Police,” and it’s a hoot.
With a running time of only 78 minutes, the film zips along, and only one part – a tale of a drug-and-drink abuser who’s pestered by three imaginary and trouble-making sprites – feels out of place.
Though there’s no linear story, the script gives plenty of information about the film’s world of characters, and with the assistance of some strong voice performances (Rush really stands out), it’s easy to end up rooting for some of them and wishing others would shut up as they go about trying to achieve personal hopes and dreams or, in a couple of cases, make everyone else miserable, because that’s all they know how to do.
Yet everyone in the film, even the nasty characters (sorry, but our angel is one of them) really just wants to be happy, and eventually hints are offered of what happiness is to each of them. It’s really nice to know that some of them achieve it.
$9.99 (R for language and brief nudity.) Written by Etgar Keret and Tatia Rosenthal; directed by Tatia Rosenthal. With voices of Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia, Ben Mendelsohn. 3 stars out of 4.