A collaboration between Israeli short story writer Etgar Keret and stop-motion animation director Tatia Rosenthal, $9.99 examines the meaning of life in a world slightly askew from our own. Dave Peck, 28 years old, unemployed and still living at home with his dad, is mired in existential uncertainty until he purchases a mail-order pamphlet touting the answer to the age-old question 'What is the meaning of life?' Inspired by the pamphlet, he attempts to share its teachings with the other tenants living in his building - only they're busy having life-altering experiences of their own. Dave's brother Lenny is falling in love with a supermodel who has a fetish for hairless men, while his father Jim struggles with depression after a witnessing a homeless man's suicide. In other rooms within the building, lonely retiree Albert finds unexpected company when a cynical guardian angel (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) shows up on his doorstep, hard-drinking loaf Ron finds a welcome distraction from the demands of adulthood in a group of two-inch tall party people and a young boy grows attached to the piggy bank he was using to save for a coveted soccer toy.
Though ostensibly about the meaning of life, $9.99 never offers a universal theory or reaches an epiphany. The characters themselves do not wholly move towards happiness or reform; some find what they are looking for, others do not, and one in particular seems especially doomed. To add to the confusion, the film sinks deep into magical realism so bizarre that it is difficult to discern whether it functions as metaphor or just pure fantasy. Moments of dark comedy, the slightly disproportionate appearance of the animated silicon figures and an instance of resurrection similarly invoke discord and opposition. Yet this sort of aporia is pleasing for the reason that it doesn't provide a decisive answer to life's big questions, but instead muses upon its complexities. On the other hand, the whimsy of the animated figures - thick-featured and awash in painterly strokes inspired by the work of Lucian Freud - and the playful score of plucked string instruments are satisfying precisely for their uncomplicated, childlike simplicity. Taken together, these disparate elements form a curious outlook on life. Yet with the audience gazing upon inherently malleable scaled-down versions of themselves, it's a perspective that one might call divine.