Nine: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Fergie (110 min.)
So what if Rob Marshall’s film version of the musical Chicago was the winner of Best Picture on the lowest rated Academy Awards show of all time? It still won Best Picture, and it still allowed Marshall Carte Blanche in Hollywood forever after. With his newest musical adaptation, Nine, Marshall tries to recapture the flair, the energy, and the panache of Chicago with a big budget sing along, complete with a big budget cast. I’m not sure if it’s the source material or the direction of Marshall, or the casting decisions, but that flair, that panache, is decidedly missing for a large portion of the film. Thank goodness Fergie, of all people, saves the day momentarily.
The film focuses on Guido Contini, played by the great Daniel Day-Lewis. Guido (the fans of Jersey Shore are all giggling in their head right now) is a prominent Italian film director modeled, inadvertently or not, after the transcendent Federico Fellini, as the film and Broadway musical is a spin off of sorts of Fellini’s 8 ½. However, as his newest film, Italia, is announced, Guido is in dire straits, struggling to find an idea or inspiration or his general direction in life. He is a man overwhelmed by celebrity, and overwhelmed by the women in his past, present, and future. These are the women who tell the story alongside Guido, some with more impact than others.
There is Guido’s wife, Luisa, played with gentle anger by Marion Cotillard who is one of Hollywood’s finest new talents. Luisa has two musical numbers, the first being a mopey ode to her husband, the second being a much more liberating, fiery number. Then, there is Guido’s mistress, Carla, played seductively and with an expected air of desperation by the lovely Penelope Cruz, who is given several scenes with Guido but only one musical number to flex her singing ability. Criminal.
These two women more directly affect Guido’s daily life, but there are other equally as important women in Guido’s disheveled little world. One is his muse as a director, Claudia, a starlet who is seen only briefly near the end of the picture. Nicole Kidman plays Claudia and she is, well, she is fine I suppose. I don’t really have an opinion of her work here. Yet another woman in Guido’s life is his mother, played gracefully, yet sparingly as a ghost in Guido’s mind, by Sophia Loren. Back in the world of his cinema, Guido’s is advised by Lilli, played by Dame Judi Dench. Her musical number, another slow tune, is nothing more than average.
The two remaining women who orbit the world of Guido Contini have the best moments in the film. There is an American reporter, Kate Hudson, who is infatuated with Guido’s celebrity and her number, Cinema Italiano, is a high-energy number that is a joy to watch. And there is the prostitute, Guido’s first sexual encounter of any sort as a young boy. Fergie, who had to gain twenty pounds to play a voluptuous minx, plays the prostitute and has the most enticing, well-played musical number, Be Italian. Her number arrives somewhere near the middle of the film and really wakes things up. Up until Fergie is able to sing, the film really plods along in a drab storyline where the characters are not too terribly interesting.
Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the finest actors of all time, seems out of place in Nine. Which makes sense given the fact that his part was originally intended for Javier Bardem who had to back out due to exhaustion. DDL appears uncomfortable in the role, even more so than his Guido character is supposed to be for the story. And his Italian accent feels forced and choppy. It isn’t that he is bad, per se; it’s just that the musical world doesn’t fit his method acting genius.
Nine, for all of its flaws - the uneven pacing of the story, the flat musical numbers - has moments of brilliance, mostly in the performances of Hudson and Fergie, and the second half of Cotillard’s where she becomes a liberated woman not afraid to butt heads with the great Guido. And the cinematography shows off Italy in a few great shots. But all in all, Nine just really made me want to go home and watch Chicago again.