Theatrical Review: NINE

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
December 25th, 2009

Nine poster version 2

Rating: 5.5/10

Writers: Michael Tolkin & Anthony Minghella (screenplay), Arthur Kopit & Maury Yeston (Broadway musical “Nine”), Mario Fratti (Broadway musical “Nine” Italian original)
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Fergie, Kate Hudson
Studio: The Weinstein Company

Guido Contini has a problem. Well, he has a lot of problems. He’s got a mistress to keep happy, a wife to keep at bay, a muse to please, a dead mother haunting him, a reputation to prove, and a creative mental block impairing his ability to do any of those things in even the most basic of ways. He’s also apt to break out into song and dance and memory, as are most of the people around him. More than any other film debuting this week, the director’s life is complicated.

NINE is a loose remake of Fellini’s 8 ½, with Daniel Day-Lewis’ Guido Contini coming to us as a tweaked version of Marcello Mastroianni’s Guido Anselmi. Fellini’s film is one of the true cinematic greats, and NINE is a poor facsimile of the entire thing. It’s far-removed from the original – a film interpretation of a stage production based off a film. It’s eerily similar to MULTIPLICITY, each copy gets weaker and dumber. It’s not necessarily “weak and dumb,” but it’s certainly weaker and dumber. But, more than anything, for a musical, it’s almost totally devoid of joy.

Daniel Day-Lewis is unable to give Guido the necessary charm key to keep us from totally loathing him. I suspect we’re supposed to give him some sort of pass for being a creative genius, but so much of his “creativity” seems scattershot, and he seems to enjoy the label of miserable artist more than the art we’re supposed to believe he’s able of creating. Also, God, what a pompous asshole.

As Guido’s mistress, Carla, Penelope Cruz verges on manic the entire time. It’s hard to tell if she is simply obsessed with Guido or just unhinged. She’s sexy for awhile, and then completely crazy, and then I just wanted her off the screen and out of my life. If guys like crazy, Carla fits the bill. She’s an inch away from boiling bunnies.

Marion Cotillard turns in the only credible performance in the film. Her acting is the most emotionally immediate, and she is also granted two very different musical performances – a heartbreaking “My Husband Makes Movies” and a sexy and vibrant rendition of “Take It All.” As Guido’s wife, Luisa, she’s been made a fool – she’s given up her career as an actress to serve as Guido’s advisor on all things professional, while turning a blind eye to his personal transgressions. There is a level of truth to the Continis’ relationship that does occasionally elevate NINE beyond disappointing schlock, particularly in terms of the need Guido has for Luisa’s professional guidance. For someone who is emotionally stunted, Guido’s constant requests for Luisa’s opinions on his work comprise the only level on which he can truly experience intimacy with another person. It’s an idea that is also explored in his relationship with Judi Dench and Nicole Kidman’s characters (as his costume mistress and muse, respectively), and though it is never fully fleshed out, it’s a concept worth thinking about in terms of what NINE is trying to tell us about the tortured, creative mind.

The best and most exciting musical number is inexplicably delivered by Kate Hudson (as one of Guido’s many women, Vogue reporter Stephanie). She’s the only one who manages to capture excitement and frisky fun in her “Cinema Italiano.” The entire song and dance is an ode to Contini’s genius, and even as I was enjoying the spectacle, I couldn’t help but wish that I could see Contini through her eyes.

Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson’s performance teeters so far on the edge of scary and cautionary that it falls right over the edge. As prostitute Saraghina, she is supposed to exude a raw sexuality that (I assume) is to show us another facet of womanhood within the confines of the world of NINE. But her primary appearance comes care of one of handful of ridiculous and unnecessary flashbacks to Guido’s childhood, and it’s nearly impossible to connect a boyhood experience with who Guido has become in the intervening years.

On a purely technical basis, NINE is edited and shot in a way that I suspect is meant to convey a dizzy fizz applicable to so many musicals. But everything gets so short-changed that it’s hard to stay with what we’re seeing on-screen. The addition of flashbacks and a shaky jump forward in time doesn’t add any sort of clarity to the proceedings, and it’s one of the things that make it exceptionally hard to feel attached to the film’s characters. Yet, all is not lost, as the set design (a major component of the film) is fantastic, interesting, and one of the only truly suitable elements of NINE. Marshall and his frequent cinematographer Dion Beebe also makes wonderful use of the play between shadow, light, and color. There are shots in NINE that far supersede what we’ve previously seen from the two, and they are almost worth the price of admission. What’s not worth the your hard-earned cash is a phoned-in film experience that reinforces why it’s often best to stick with the classics.

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  • Genbuck

    Though I do agree that the film lacks the greatness of 8 1/2. It mostly lacks in all the parts that you like. Most definitely in Kate Hudson's travesty that was considered the best part (by your account). It suffered from an acute case of emphysema. It lost its breath after a minute of running time. It was finally dead by the time Kate Hudson starts to sing. The movie was bad.

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  • Joshua

    I have to agree with you concerning Marion Cotillard. She was brilliant in this. She was the only one that I loved and the only performance that I could get in to. It really is a travesty that if someone had to get an Academy Award Nomination for this movie it would be Penelope Cruz and not Marion Cotillard. It was a beautiful looking film though and I loved the curtain call at the end, but the music was inept.

  • Joshua

    I have to agree with you concerning Marion Cotillard. She was brilliant in this. She was the only one that I loved and the only performance that I could get in to. It really is a travesty that if someone had to get an Academy Award Nomination for this movie it would be Penelope Cruz and not Marion Cotillard. It was a beautiful looking film though and I loved the curtain call at the end, but the music was inept.

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