SXSW Film Review – 9 Rides
The strangest things happen at night. You can fall in love, go to jail, or both. Many of us go out to relax and have a good time, and sometimes that earnest motivation can lead us into adventures we never saw coming. That is only amplified on New Year’s Eve. I remember one New Year’s Eve I went out thinking the evening would be a quiet affair, only to find myself a few hours later stuck in an overcrowded elevator with the fire department trying to figure a way to get us out. Anything can happen.
That’s the kind of tone we get in Matthew A. Cherry’s 9 Rides. Following an Uber driver (Dorian Missick) during the late hours of the New Year, we’re taken on a journey to meet a vast array of different riders all through the eyes of this one person. Cherry (who wrote, directed, and edited) separates each of the nine sequences into chapters. Chapter 2 is titled “Out of Patience,” Chapter 6 is “No Worries,” and so on. With each rider we meet, we are given a deeper insight into the driver (who is never named) and his innermost dreams and aspirations.
One of the film’s selling points is that it was shot on an iPhone 6s. This calls to mind last year’s Tangerine (2015), which was shot on an iPhone 5s. 9 Rides shares similar characteristics beyond the cell phone use. Both feature characters traversing L.A. during a particular stretch of time, having to deal with relationships while encountering a host of colorful characters. While Tangerine was a ball of energy, 9 Rides takes a laid back approach. Incorporating a mixture of smooth R&B and synthesized sounds, Cherry develops the narrative in a more methodical fashion. The cinematography (Richard J. Vialet) captures the nighttime scenes with neon light. Images of reflections are everywhere, from street lamps reflecting off the driver’s windshield to the rearview mirror reflecting his eyes toward us.
Each fare has their own story to tell, but the over-arching thread involves the driver’s relationship with his fiancé (Tracie Thoms). The driver chose to work New Year’s Eve in an effort to make more money to spend on a lavish wedding and settle down in a nice home. But a startling revelation (which I will not describe) causes our protagonist to question everything about his relationship and whether or not being an Uber driver is even worth it.
Cherry does a fine job at using the multiple riders as a way for the driver to examine his own life. In Chapter 2 he picks up a number of drunk howdy kids who nearly get him arrested. His anger toward them is contrasted with the couple he picks up in Chapter 4, when his mood immediately shifts into concern as they display hints of an abusive relationship. In Chapter 7, he picks up an elderly couple deeply in love. Each new chapter clues the driver into what he really wants. He has grown out of the immaturity of youth, and is now yearning to reach a place where he can grow old and happy with another person.
As the main character, Dorian Missick excels at being an observer. I mean that as a compliment. Cherry made the right choice in having the action occur around the driver, and utilizing his reactions as an entryway into his personality. Missick delivers a good range of emotions. He can be charming and even low key romantic. Whenever the driver has an opportunity, he’ll tell his riders about his fiancée and his goal to give her a fancy wedding. He also has a defensive, jealous side. When he hears that his fiancée has curiously stepped out for the night, the driver decides to follow her to a restaurant to confront her, against the protestations of his friend (Amin Joseph). Missick is a natural, relaxed performer. He’s at his best when he is internalizing his feelings. The less expression he shows, the more effective the performance is.
The IMDb trivia section states that the film was shot without a script. This is a weakness of the narrative, and it’s a big one. The dialogue does not have any real resonance. During dramatic scenes, lines are repeated over and over again. The more the driver talked, the less believable he was because the words didn’t have the power behind them. In one scene, the driver stopped for a minute to say a prayer. What was supposed to be an act of desperation came off as unnatural. Cherry’s direction and style is very good for what is a low budget production, but the dialogue (whether improvised or not) wasn’t there. In a pivotal moment, Cherry chose to shoot a confrontation devoid of dialogue all together, instead opting for a musical montage to fill in the gaps.
9 Rides is not a perfect movie, but it’s a good one. Matthew A. Cherry told a story in limited fashion but made the most of his resources, creating imagery and symbolism all within the confines of a vehicle. For those interested, it’s worth a watch.