Monday, December 28, 2009

Lingerie, Italians, And Singing


I've seen but all of five minutes of Fellini's "8 ½" from 1968, so please allow my review of "Nine" to have no judgment calls based on this source material from which this musical is so strongly influenced. It is also based off the 1982 Broadway musical that won the Tony Award for best musical. Both are mashed into director Rob Marshall's ("Chicago," "Memoirs of a Geisha") own adaptation which takes the same story of the Italian director Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis) who is stuck in a creative block and is overwhelmed and surrounding by the pack of women in his life. It's in 1960s Rome, and although he's made great movies before as his co-workers call him Maestro, he's stuck in a rut selling publicity about some epic called "Italia" that doesn't really exist yet even on paper. This is all meant to be interesting as we follow the moping, chain-smoking Guito in his self-discovery, but it isn't. Guido's no hero. He's a scumbag.

Casting Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido was the first misstep. Isn't he too old? Breaching into your fifties, any sort of mid-life crisis isn't endearing or fascinating, it's just pathetic. Sure, Day-Lewis does what he can with what he's got, but when singing his accent entirely changes from sounding a whole lot less Italian, and why, may I ask, why do all these women adore him? Some dimension of his character is sorely missing. First there's his wife, Louisa (Marion Cotillard), and then his mistress, Carla (Penélope Cruz). Claudia (Nicole Kidman) is the woman Guido always casts as the leading woman in his films, and even they have a history. Meanwhile, a Vogue reporter (Kate Hudson) is throwing herself all over him. An Italian prostitute (Fergie) from Guido's past as a boy also sneaks into the mix. Keeping Guido in check is his costume designer (Judi Dench) and the memory of his mother (Sophia Loren). The actresses who play these women are all Oscar nominees or winners of some sort, and it's surprising to see them all together in this mess. It was all obviously meant to be something better.

Marion Cotillard being as talented as she is actually presents one of the biggest problems to "Nine" as a whole. Her character's hatred for Guido is so intense and fierce that we as an audience end up hating him more perhaps than we already did. She's that good and a stand-out amongst an otherwise shrug-worthy movie. Penélope Cruz is also effective, and that includes scenes aside from her rolling around in skimpy lingerie. Nicole Kidman is barely there, and her musical number is instantly forgettable. Kate Hudson's meant-to-be show-stopper, "Cinema Italiano," is catchy, sure, but embarrassing if you actually listen to the clueless lyrics. Numbers such as hers had a majority of the movie feeling like the runway of a Victoria's Secret show.

I personally enjoyed some of the musical numbers, though, especially Fergie's "Be Italian" and Cotillard's moment of revelation, "Take It All." The problem, though, is that Rob Marshall uses the same technique for his songs here as he did in "Chicago," except it actually worked then. Every musical number exists in a fantasy set alone on a stage, except in the case of "Chicago," those moments always worked to either explain a character's mindset or progress the narrative even if just a little bit. Not the case here. The songs feel claustrophobically stage-bound, and even though they may be nice to look at, it becomes tiring knowing that we're just going to have to return to the plot without anything advanced. It essentially becomes a list of mostly ho-hum songs strung along by a thin and boring plotline about a man with whom we don't even sympathize.

You can't knock this movie for not having ample amounts of passion. But to what cause? It's an ultimate misfire, a musical full of razzle-dazzle that doesn't add up to anything more than just a two-hour preview for the movie it wishes it were. In the credits, they show all the actresses performing their musical numbers with flashes to shots of them rehearsing these musical numbers not all jazzed-up. It's a clever move considering "Nine" is a film about making a film, which is essentially meant to be the film we just watched, but it's an issue when watching those credits was my favorite part.

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