After Lev (Bret Roberts) decides Frankie (Amy Seimetz) is a bit too drunk and leaves the bar, she finds herself in the car with another man who subsequently rapes her. A forgotten wallet brings Lev and Frankie together again, and before Lev can comprehend Frankie telling him that she was raped, she has moved on to “have you ever raped anyone.”
With that start, it looks like 9 Full Moons, the directorial debut of Tomer Algamor, is not your ordinary love story. Despite the initial promise, though, the more we get to see of Lev and Frankie’s unlikely romance and chaotic lives, the less original it seems. Lev is an introverted producer/musician who gets an opportunity to revive the career of country legend Charlie King Nash (Donal Logue), a stubborn alcoholic who rarely cares for Lev’s advice. Frankie is even more of an alcoholic and has little tolerance for things not going her way. The more we see the two struggle to stay together through the ups and downs (without the ups, really), the more it becomes apparent that each, but particularly Frankie, has problems far beneath the surface that need to be sorted out first.
Thus, 9 Full Moons essentially depicts the old adage that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else or be loved. It’s increasingly common territory, effectively portrayed in Ira Sachs’ Keep The Lights On and an underlying facet of Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight. Largely, those are Frankie’s changes, which is surprising considering she mostly drinks and gets angry and is rescued by Lev. Lev, despite having more of a personal story with his music, does not change much. He is the brooding stoic, albeit a bit more thoughtful and much more active, as we see in intermittent scenes both with Nash and with Frankie. However, his arc, despite his activeness, is a bit unsatisfying, while Frankie’s passivity (and one abrupt change to her life) forces change—a rather questionable message for the film to be spending, but also a curiously dramatic one.
Much of that is due to Amy Seimetz’s interesting performance, which makes it hard to buy into her alcoholic character but also makes Frankie’s wild mood swings very effective. Seimetz makes the film difficult to penetrate, but she also instills the film with a much-needed unpredictability even when the script prefers to indulge in repetition.
Still, 9 Full Moons has some carefully observed sequences, namely a dinner that overlaps Frankie’s conversation about no longer drinking or smoking with Lev’s sports talk. It’s a subtle and short moment, but one of the film’s biggest points lies just underneath. It displays the disconnect between a couple that only seems to be going through the motions, pits past against present in a way that foreshadows the end of a film always stuck firmly in the present, and casts a foreboding shadow over a couple that stays together where so many would have already given up. But what makes 9 Full Moons dramatic is that despite nothing being especially surprising, there’s a constant suspense as to where and how things will go, and while the ending isn’t executed perfectly, Algamor’s message shines through anyway.
That’s largely how the film proceeds in a much larger sense; not perfectly, but you see what it’s going for enough to get it. The parties are loud and strobe-heavy; the heavier, more emotional moments are low-key, shot/reverse-shot syntax and an occasional long-take. The plot seems to circle itself at times but it’s in the interest of character. Interesting performances and the unique plot about a young gun trying to revive the career of a favorite artist keep things going (and will please music lovers keen to draw parallels to similar happenings among their own favorites), but other times it will feel like you have been there before.
9 Full Moons opens in limited release on November 7th. See the trailer above.