Uber drivers have become a part of our everyday reality. They’re almost always on time, have clean cars, bottles of water, and quick smiles. They see the best and worst of us- running into their cars following arguments, drunk after parties, happy after a first date. But they have lives too, and those lives are rarely seen by us, unless of course we care to know, and they care to tell.
Coming off its premiere at SXSW this week, Matthew Cherry’s second feature film and the first to be shot entirely on the iPhone 6s, follows a black uber driver, played by Dorian Missick, who reflects on life and relationships on New Years Eve, as he picks up and drops off a number of passengers in Los Angeles. Each passenger has a struggle, or story, that underscores his own, and leads him to an inevitable fit of paranoia and worry about the relationship he has with his fiancee.
In “9 Rides,” each ride is a meditation on relationships, on patience, and also on fear. Cherry creates a deft character study in the containment of a car, under bright and low light, and atop bumpy streets. This elevates the tension. In an early scene, the uber driver is pulled over by an aggressive white police officer. The police officer presumes guilt based on the driver’s blackness alone, and each attempt the character makes to disprove that assumption brings him closer to the brutality we regularly see captured on cell phone video.
In another scene, the uber driver attempts to mediate an argument between an abusive boyfriend and his visibly damaged, but beautiful girlfriend. The performances here are natural and uncomfortable. We’ve all been in these situations, as bystanders, as witnesses, and as interventionists. Cherry, working with DP Richard Vialet, uses stacked foreground, background shots to show the internal anguish in the driver as he looks into his rearview mirror and witnesses the situation escalate.
Other rides call to mind the newness and “change” that people adopt on New Years Eve, whether it’s in the light kisses of a couple’s burgeoning relationship, or in the promises of an older one. While that newness permeates the uber driver’s car when these passengers get in, it also seems to weigh heavily on his conscious, lending a certain mystery and intrigue to this character, whom Missick plays with a powerful restraint. There’s something deeper to this character, and Cherry leads us there without overdoing it.
Ultimately, the film works well within this iPhone production model because Uber, as an entity, is so tied to our relationship with cell phones and with new technology, which allows us to have things and people “now.” We want everything now, we want the driver now, and we want our lovers to respond now. Everything seems like it’s moving at a speed we can’t hold on to, but the answers do eventually come, and when they do, they are well worth the drive to get there.