Review: "Nine"

by Elias Savada

While the songs are familiar, I never caught the Broadway show with book by Arthur Kopit and music by Maury Yeston—either the 1982 original directed by Tommy Tune or the 2003 revival, both Tony Award winning productions. Like Mel Brooks’ The Producers, Rob Marshall’s adaptation of Nine reflects a cinema to theater to cinema cycle, although most people (including myself) thought the Susan Stroman re-imagination of the former was a deadly bore. The prospects are definitely improved with the new winter holiday entry, from the musical play based on Italian cineaste Federico Fellini’s masterpiece 8½, now expanded by stage-turned-movie director Marshall, master of the successful and massively enjoyable Chicago seven years ago and the technically stunning 2005 adaptation of Arthur Golden’s book Memoirs of a Geisha. His third film has already garnered some award nominations, claiming 10 Broadcast Film Critics and 5 Golden Globes nominations, as well as winning two Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards (Best Art Direction, Best Ensemble). While more prize nods will follow, these will be claimed more on Marshall’s directorial flair than on his ability to tell a focused story. There’s no drop-dead, gotta-see film here, although the cinematography, choreography, production design, and costumes provide enough eye candy to satisfy nearly any filmgoer’s sweet tooth. Yes, the film is dizzyingly intoxicating in parts and sports an incredibly accomplished, high-octane cast (but some with less than premium voices), but I can’t see it dancing to cinema heaven.

(Of Note: Only in name will Nine be confused with the animated film 9 released earlier this year—isn’t that weird to have two like-titled films being shown only three months apart. The award-bound Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire was changed from Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire to avoid confusion with the action feature Push.)

The razzle-dazzle of the film focuses on iconic Italian director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the unappreciated wife, and the under-the-sheets and over-the-rainbow women in his present and past life, not to mention his late and glorious mother. It’s Rome, 1965 when the film starts, and Contini’s ingenious juices are strained to a self-absorbed, pulpy mess, the result of an immense case of creative blockage. Despite the absence of the maestro’s ever-promised script, the clock is ticking down to the last 10 days of pre-production for his grandiose new film Italia. They have a title, they have something of a set, they are finished off casting, so Contini’s artistic pedigree appears to provide enough security for his production team to allow the crew to ferociously power ahead, then back down, while Contini deals with his ghosts. He delves into present affairs (sexual and work-related) while daydreaming of his 9-year-old self, often confiding with his Mamma, an eternally resplendent earth mother.

The always intense Daniel Day-Lewis (looking very much like Maximilian Schell) carries the Italian bit exceedingly well, even if his singing voice isn’t terribly strong. He dives into the role much like he does with all his films, with a fierce determination. The women cover a who’s who of acting and appealing talent as well: Luisa, his demure wife and former leading lady (Marion Cotillard); Carla, his sultry, obsessive mistress (Penélope Cruz); film star Claudia, his muse (Nicole Kidman); costume designer Lilli (Judi Dench), his closest friend; Stephanie, an American fashion journalist for Vogue (Kate Hudson); Saraghina, a beach-side whore from his youth (Stacy ‘Fergie’ Ferguson); and his statuesque mother (Sophia Loren). They all showcase their own numbers (Cotillard has two) and although they were well rehearsed, some of the hectic cutting and pacing left some of the principals bleeding, particularly in Kate Hudson’s Cinema Italiano number, which blends Sixties’ pop with MTV-style editing.

The ebb and flow of the story moves back-and-forth in time (color and black-and-white photography help with the conveyance, but the hue changes are also used to other, sometimes over-indulgent, advantage) and to-and-fro with the several of Guido’s relationships (so much so that when the preview screening reversed reels 2 and 3 it wasn’t obviously to everyone in the audience). The male centerpiece seeks resourceful inspiration, not only for personal salvation, but also for those who depend upon him emotionally, sensually, or creatively. Marshall’s cinematic interpretation is painted in abundant and colorful master strokes, using a broad array of technical aspects to create a show stopping tableau. Nine is an over-the-top, eye-popping musical that doesn’t completely satisfy, especially compared to it’s original source classic.

Directed by Rob Marshall; Screenplay by Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella, based on the book for the Broadway musical Nine by Arthur Kopit; music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, adapted from the Federico Fellini film 8½; Director of Photography, Dion Beebe; Choreographed by Rob Marshall and John DeLuca

“Nine”
2009, Rated PG-13, 112 minutes
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Guido Contini), Marion Cotillard (Luisa), Penélope Cruz (Carla), Judi Dench (Lilli), Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson (Saraghina), Kate Hudson (Stephanie), Nicole Kidman (Claudia Jenssen), Sophia Loren (Mamma), Ricky Tognazzi (Dante), Giuseppe Cederna (Fausto), Valerio Mastandrea (De Rossi), Elio Germano (Pierpaolo), Martina Stella (Donatella), Roberto Nobile (Jaconelli), Andrea Di Stefano (Benito), Roberto Citran (Doctor Rondi)
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