“Nine Lives”: Barry Sonnenfeld’s Descent into Experimental Madness

Usually after seeing a film one aims to discuss the content of it, especially when seeing it with friends. Unfortunately, I was unable to do so due to being the only one in the theater.

As of August 2016 veteran director Barry Sonnenfeld has directed 11 feature films. A vast majority of which have either been hits or massive bombs. To say that Sonnenfeld is a polarizing director is a gross understatement. Yet what is truly interesting about Sonnenfeld’s most recent “comedic” endeavor, “Nine Lives,” is that it is his only film that has absolutely no redeeming qualities. 

Even those who attest that “Wild Wild West” is a completely revolting experience cannot resist bobbing their collective heads to Will Smith’s admittedly infectious rapping on the soundtrack. 

Yet “Nine Lives” has nothing going for it. To discuss the problems with “Nine Lives” in detail would be arduous and pointless- partly because it would take up a lot of page space, but also because there is no inverse. Therefore the more interesting and important approach to discussing “Nine Lives” is to relate the film to Sonnenfeld as a director and a person as well the current state of family films.

The best way to view “Nine Lives” is like a somewhat experimental art piece for Sonnenfeld. From viewing the trailer, and the film itself, it almost seems as if Sonnenfeld wanted to craft a poignant satire of children’s films. Yet the studio, Europa, decided to cut the footage into the exact opposite, an annoying, timewasting and confusing mess of a film. 

While Sonnenfeld creating a film like the one theorized above may seem far fetched to some, looking at his first two feature films, “The Adams Family” and “Adams Family Values,” it becomes much more feasible. Both of these films are clear subversions of what was popular for family films in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Replacing themes of family, love and friendship with clear sexual references and surreal bodily horror comedy. 

But that was 1991, and Sonnenfeld has changed as a person and as a filmmaker. He hasn’t really directed anything that has been unanimously declared as being a great film since “Men In Black” in 1996. 

Maybe Sonnenfeld has grown tired with Hollywood and the populous over the last 20 years. It’s possible that he hasn’t learned any lessons over his long and experienced career and has then decided to screw with the American people. 

The moment in the film that completely validates this theory comes towards the end of the film where Tom Brand, Kevin Spacey, delivers some parting words for the audience. In which he concludes that he “hasn’t learned any lessons” and he “still hates cats”. A statement that, when paired with my above theory about Sonnenfeld makes “Nine Lives” into quite the interesting study. 

“Nine Lives” is an interesting kind of terrible. One that makes you reflect on the mental state of those making the film, but also those in the theater.