Thursday, January 7, 2010

Film Review - Nine

In the film Chicago, Richard Gere sings a song about "giving them the old 'Razzle Dazzle'" in order to put one over the audience, or in his case, the jury in a murder trial. Rob Marshall, the director of Chicago, employs this technique with his latest film, Nine, and, like the situation in the aforementioned film, it works - sort of.

Nine is the musical adaptation of Federico Fellini's 1963 film 8 1/2, a semi-autobiographical film about a famed Italian director who is expected to begin his next film and has lost all of his inspiration and retreats into his fantasies and memories, all the while juggling the many women with whom he has surrounded himself. Some things were changed for Nine, most notably, the addition of several musical numbers. In Nine, the director is Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) who is not only creatively stuck, but the pressure of his life and image have made him become an emotional cripple. Wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard)is his former leading lady and has had to suffer through Guido's obsession with his work and his many affairs, including his most recent mistress, Carla (Penelope Cruz), a vixen whose vulnerability threatens to mess up everything that Guido is attempting to juggle. While struggling to keep afloat and answer to these women and others, he also has to come up with an idea for the film that everyone is anticipating.

Nine is a technically precise film, and is stylish and beautiful. The lighting is dramatic, the cinematography was appropriately flashy and the costumes were great - I loved the look of Day-Lewis and Cotillard in particular. The performances were excellent, and once again it was fun to see actors sing and dance that we're not used to seeing. Kate Hudson, playing Stephanie, a Vogue journalist, seemed to have the most fun during her musical number, "Cinema Italiano" and, though I'm not a fan, I have to admit she did a great job. As Saraghina, a prostitute from Guido's childhood memory, Fergie provided the film's showstopping scene with "Be Italian". Completely wasted was Nicole Kidman as Claudia, Guido's long-time leading lady, who was in the film for about five minutes and whose importance was kind of lost on me. I initially thought that Day-Lewis was woefully miscast in the film, but I think he really made it work; he embodied the role, both emotionally and physically, and had a rumpled sexiness that didn't make it surprising that he was desired by so many women.

Unfortunately, the gorgeous package wasn't quite able to cover up the most serious defect of the film: There just wasn't any substance, and out of all of the characters that are introduced in Nine, (and there are a lot of them) I really only felt for Luisa, though the more I absorbed the character of Carla, the more sympathetic I became, and I think that is due in large part to Cruz's great performance. Though there were a couple of exceptions, namely both of Cotillard's musical numbers, Penelope Cruz's bump-and-grind and the aforementioned Fergie piece, the centerpieces of Nine are the musical numbers, and so many of them didn't make sense. Judi Dench, who stole every scene she was in, had a completely nonsensical and unnecessary song to sing (though, like everyone else in the film, she did it well) and though Sophia Loren was essential as Guido's mother, they just kind of trotted her out for a couple of minutes here and there, and her big scene wasn't really needed to move the story forward. Musicals are always tricky, particularly in this day and age; back in their heyday of the 1940's and 1950's, people would break into song and it was done partly with a wink and a nudge, or the audience would just accept the cheese factor. The scarce modern musical has a much tougher task, with both the fact that musicals generally don't sell anymore (that's why they died out as a genre in the first place) and we as an audience are a lot more cynical. When it's done well, like Moulin Rouge! or even Chicago, it's a revelation.

Nine, however gorgeous and entertaining it was, was not a revelation, however. Though it kept my attention throughout, and it did succeed in ending well (when I was really beginning to wonder how Marshall was going to reel everything in) I was left with feelings of apathy and detachment. Though I can appreciate the "razzle dazzle" I also want some substance. The glimpses of substance came between musical numbers, when there was a "real" story going on, and I found myself getting irritated when it would be interrupted by another musical number, particularly one that didn't really have a place there. I think I'm going move on and experience the story the way I want to see it: by watching Fellini's 8 1/2.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

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