More like six out of 10
Nine, musical, rated PG-13, Regal DeVargas, 2 chiles
The posters for Nine ask that you “be Italian” this holiday season. The film’s title and content suggest a homage to Federico Fellini’s 1963 film 8½ , but it is adapted from a 1982 Broadway production that was already such a homage. The story has now wandered so far from the source of inspiration that as far as translating an authentic Italian experience goes, it’s more Olive Garden than Trattoria Nostrani.
Not that authenticity is necessarily the most admirable quality a film could possess. There is still potential for enjoyment here, and believe me, I really wanted to enjoy Nine— though perhaps not as much as director Rob Marshall ( Chicago) wanted me to. Still, you must possess a cynical heart indeed to sit in front of a musical starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, and Penélope Cruz and not hope to have a good time.
Day-Lewis plays Guido Contini, a celebrated movie director in 1960s Italy who is attempting to make a comeback after a string of flops. Production on “Italia,” his latest film, is to begin shortly. Costumes are crafted, sets are built, and the star actress is due to arrive. Contini is taking press conferences, and he doesn’t have a script or the slightest idea what the film is about. He holes up in a hotel room and faces his career crisis by smoking cigarettes and reflecting on the parade of women circling through his life and
memory— from his saintly mother (Sophia Loren) to his matronly costume designer (Dench), from his staid, neglected wife (Cotillard) to his sultry if crazy mistress (Cruz).
Nine also seems to be missing a script and direction. Writers Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella crafted several nice moments, but a bit of fleeting nostalgia and homage does not make a movie. Fortunately, as with Gangs of New York, Day-Lewis rescues the movie from the brink of disaster. He doesn’t take to the role with the tortured warmth of 8½ ’s Marcello Mastroianni, but instead plays it with the detached celebrity of Bob Dylan in Don’t Look Back. He slinks around, looking effortlessly cool with black sunglasses, skinny ties, and black suits hugging his lanky frame. He leans his body at slanted angles and walks with a slightly uneven gait, as if to show that Contini is a little off compared with everyone else. I wasn’t sure whether this was to convey the genius of the artist or the turmoil of his crisis, but either way, it’s difficult to take your eyes off of him.
The cast of gifted women doesn’t have as much to do— which is sad, especially in the cases of the always-welcome Dench and Cotillard. With so many great actresses in such a relatively short film, each woman is given minimal screen time and, aside from Cruz, very little to do. They are ushered in, do a scene or two, perform a musical number, and exit. In the end, when the women all return together, it feels more like a simple curtain call than a moving display of the women who shaped the man.
Nonetheless, Nine has style and humor, and it is almost delightful — when the characters are not singing. The musical numbers that make up half of the movie are all duds. There isn’t a single song here that you’ll even remember after you leave the theater, much less one that you’ll be humming. The choreography didn’t strike me as being particularly inspired, and the dance sequences are shot like those in so many other modern musicals— with a constantly moving camera and hasty editing, to obscure the fact that these performers aren’t exactly Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. These days, the camera and editing equipment do the dancing, not the actors.
The slow-burning burlesque striptease that Cruz performs is the only song that works on any level, and the less said about the garish number performed by an out-of-her-depth Kate Hudson, the better. Day-Lewis acquits himself well enough in his two numbers, as he certainly knows how to turn a humorous phrase and to make grand physical gestures. Even so, I couldn’t help but feel he is gifted with an actor’s command over his body, not a dancer’s.
While the movie owes a great deal to 8½ , the Broadway and cabaret flair reminded me more often of Bob Fosse’s 1979 film All That Jazz. That movie, while not a direct adaptation, also owes a debt to Fellini. Fosse evoked the Italian director’s work in a Manhattan setting and also managed to convey the gravitas that helps Fellini’s films work. There is no such gravitas in Nine, and no sense of stakes. Ultimately, why should we care if Contini gets “Italia” off the ground? Nobody here can conjure up a good reason why Nine should exist.
My two left feet: Daniel Day-Lewis
This year’s razzle dazzle: Fergie, center