Directed by Rob Marshall
Screenplay by Michael Tolkin, Anthony Minghella
Based on the musical with book by Arthur L. Kopit
Music and lyrics by Maury Yeston
Guido Contini – Daniel Day-Lewis
Luisa Contini – Marion Cotillard
Carla – Penelope Cruz
Lilli – Judi Dench
Saraghina – Fergie
Stephanie – Kate Hudson
Claudia – Nicole Kidman
Mamma – Sophia Loren
Nine’s Fantastic Cast Can’t Save It From
Sloppy Pacing and Boring Music
Rob Marshall’s Chicago was a pitch-perfect Broadway-to-film adaptation that used the best of both mediums to create a film that left you smiling. No one really expected Marshall to duplicate that success with Nine, a movie based on the life of Federico Fellini and more full of Oscar nominated actors than almost any other movie this year—but with such talent as Sophia Loren, Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, and Marion Cotillard aboard, the movie could’ve been so much better. Poor pacing and unmemorable music are only the film’s most obvious flaws. All in all it’s a disappointment.
Rob Marshall takes a cue from Fellini’s 1963 classic 8½ (and he is certainly not the first nor the most talented director to do so), which is about a director with writer’s block whose imagination runs wild as he strives to compose another film. In Nine, Italian director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) wracks his brain for a script for his newest movie even as he does press conferences and begins costume design. His horrifically self-centered flailing draws his mind to all the women in his life, each of whom is given approximately fifteen minutes of screen time. His wife (Marion Cotillard), mistress (Penelope Cruz), mother (Sophia Loren), and costume mistress (Judi Dench) occupy the most time in his mind as well as onscreen. A whore he encountered as a child (Fergie), an American reporter he nearly beds (Kate Hudson), and his cinematic muse (Nicole Kidman) also dance in and out as he struggles for his latest greatest plot. With a cast like this, the movie should’ve been a triumph; Day-Lewis, Cruz, Dench, and Cotillard have won well-deserved Oscars in the last few years, and Loren is one of the screen’s original sirens. Unfortunately, most of these stellar acors perform no more than a few minutes’ worth of lines.
Day-Lewis is a notorious method actor, and he adopts a kind of stoop, shoving his hands in his pockets and donning shades and a fedora as he tries to slouch past the constant onslaught of paparazzi that follow his every move. Though he seems to be a born performer, he’s not really built for singing, and while his numbers aren’t terrible, they’re not good either. Kidman’s chops as a singer and dancer were already tested to fine results in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, and she holds her own as Claudia. Dench is a pleasure to watch in her role as dour costume mistress Lilli and her song “Folies Bergére,” largely because the woman is incredibly versatile and genuinely seems to enjoy her turn as songstress. Kate Hudson, whose thin physique and bouffant fit perfectly in the mod styling of the era, either can’t dance well or is not given the chance; her number’s a miniskirt-and-skinny-tie-clad disaster. Marion Cotillard is perhaps the film’s brightest star as Guido’s long-suffering wife Luisa. As Luisa realizes the extent of her husband’s philandering, Cotillard drowns herself in the role. It doesn’t hurt that the actress is achingly beautiful, nor that her song-and-dance number is the sexiest and also the saddest in the film. She pulls these elements together with utter aplomb. The Black Eyed Peas’ lead singer Fergie also shines as Saraghina, a whore who helped shape Guido’s approach to women—but she is of course a singer and not an actress.
Marshall apparently strove for the early 60s New Wave Cinema feel, which relied heavily on shaky camerawork and frenetic editing—except during musical numbers, which are proscribed so heavily as to be cloying. As the filmmakers strove to pay homage to 1960s Italian cinema, they lost the meaning behind the art, leaving a messy result. Chicago touched all the right buttons as it jumped from reality to imagination and back, then deftly wove the two together. Nine slides clumsily back and forth between Guido’s self-absorbed womanizing and the imaginary world in which he’s the center of each woman’s world. The movie fails to knit together its fantastic and authentic elements as artfully as Marshall’s last film, and the pacing doesn’t help: though it may be reasonable to assume each woman is allotted about fifteen minutes of time in Guido’s overworked brain, that doesn’t help the film move along. Instead it leaves a trail of loose ends. The film’s music is also utterly unmemorable, which in itself is a death knell for a musical.
Critics and audiences alike had high hopes for Nine as a worthy Oscar contender this year. A cast of solidly great actors should’ve built a strong foundation for homage to a Fellini film, but the end result is a house of cards, some sections weaker than others, the whole of which collapses under the slightest pressure. Marshall has a lot to live up to after Chicago, and hopefully his next film will fare better.