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When watching Nine, which was just released on DVD this past Tuesday, I had no clue what to expect. Months upon months of anticipation for director Rob Marshall’s return to the musical genre were finally to unveil themselves as either time well-spent or time better spent elsewhere. Unfortunately, Nine fit the bill for the latter, as it was a nearly intolerable film experience.
Nine, based on Federico Fellini‘s classic film 8 1/2, follows famous Italian film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he sets out to make his film Italia. However, Nine decides to focus itself not on this conflict. Instead, we see Guido’s interactions with women — lots and lots of women. We see him with his mistress (Penelope Cruz), his costume designer (Judi Dench), a prostitute from his childhood (Fergie), his wife (Marion Cotillard), a Vogue reporter (Kate Hudson), his mother (Sophia Loren), and his muse (Nicole Kidman).
The first glaring problem is the direction. Masrhall’s juxtaposition worked terrifically in Chicago, but not here. In Chicago, there was a reason for the juxtaposition: to effectively show that society had been corrupted by the media. In Nine, the juxtaposition brings a sense of awkwardness to the film. As for this all-star cast, let’s start with Day-Lewis. He is generally considered the greatest actor of his time and maybe ever. Although his method acting is admirable, Day-Lewis makes for a terrible Guido Contini. From the moment he appeared, he stood out as horribly miscast. From what the tepid screenplay gives us, surely Guido is a charming man, but Day-Lewis exudes nothing charming in his performance whatsoever. He just masters the “method” part of the performance. His singing is fine, but you can tell that he isn’t a recording artist.
Cruz plays Carla, Guido’s mistress, she gets to sing, dance, emote, and be funny. It’s everything you could want in a performance. Cruz performs “A Call from the Vatican,” which is arguably the “signature song” from the stage musical. She certainly does the song justice, physically embodying the sultry tune. Sadly, Marshall pairs this tour-de-force with a dull scene in Guido’s hotel room, doing the lovely Cruz no justice.
Dench is a riot as Lillaine. She delivers nearly every single line of dialogue with amazing deadpan. Ferguson (aka Miss Fergalicious) was surprisingly good as the prostitute Saraghina, who has essentially one scene in the film: her performance of “Be Italian” as Guido reminisces about his childhood. Cotillard, however, easily gives the best performance of anyone. In both the musical and non-musical scenes she seems effortlessly brilliant. She makes the poor staging of “My Husband Makes Movies” easy to forget and her performance of the song “Take It All,” which was written directly for the screen, leaves you wanting more.
Now we have Hudson. Her acting worked, and she performed the song “Cinema Italiano” with the utmost star quality. There is a huge problem, however, in that Hudson’s Vogue reporter Stephanie is an unneeded character. Granted, there are several characters in the story that have no real purpose, but Hudson’s is probably the least important of them all. Loren’s character is another throwaway. She sings a sleep-inducing ballad called “Guarda la Luna.”
That leaves Kidman as Claudia, Contini’s muse and famed actress who is to star in Guido’s Italia. The character isn’t completely unneeded, but more should have been done with her. The vocals on her rendition of “Unusual Way” had some “studio magic” done here and there, but this is one of the only song sequences that actually works. As Kidman’s character has more significance to the story than any of the other woman in the cast, we should have been treated to some more time with her.
As a fan of musicals, this was hard to watch. Some of the music worked, but the awkward staging and bland screenplay ensured this to be a dull movie experience.
Directed by Rob Marshall
Written by Michael Tolkin, Anthony Minghella (screenplay), Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston (American stage musical), Mario Fratti (original/Italian stage musical)
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz
Other Player Affinity Reviews
Simon thought: “As someone who finds little pleasure in the traditional musical, Nine exists as two hours of near torment. With superb examples such as Once proving that this genre can evolve to a more modern and satisfying plane there is no need for such bombastic excess. What little praise can be given pertains to the art direction and choreography execution of the many dance numbers but this is hardly a reason to be excited. The songs that accompany the aforementioned bursts of kinetic energy are uniformly unmemorable and all follow the same template where the many talented actresses sing to Daniel Day-Lewis’ Guido (Not one number goes by without the ‘Oh Guido, Guido!’ verse). Certainly many will cling to the defense that Nine is merely an adaptation of the musical and any qualms are simply a matter of taste, but in that case, I guess my taste is exceptional.” Rating: 3/10
Steven thought: “Rob Marshall knows how to direct a musical for the big screen. We learned that after his vision for “Chicago” earned a the big prize at the Academy Awards. That set the stakes high for Nine. If that weren’t enough, the film assembles one of the most decorated female ensembles in cinema history. But while the amount of talent is flooring, the film is not. Marshall knows what he’s doing as far as using a variety of angles, editing them nicely and creating mood from lighting and color. When Contini takes a call from his mistress Carla, played with fantastic dramatic range by Penelope Cruz, he imagines her provocative dance as she whispers similar words to him over the phone. That’s the seamless blend that Marshall’s known for conducting. Other numbers are random interruptions punctuated by unmemorable songs. It would be one thing if each number came from Contini’s imagination and helped us sympathize with his character, to whom we feel pretty indifferent, but not all do. Nine is all visual production and talent; the story and the way it works with the musical numbers and the way those numbers work with the characters is shoddy more times than not, which was what made Chicago such a successful adaptation. As such, we have numerous appreciable elements in what amounts to an okay film.” Rating: 6/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 4.3/10