December 12, 2009 / by tom
Like 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors and Hairspray, Nine is a movie based on a musical that was based on a movie. Inspired by Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical 8 ½, the film follows Italian film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis). Guido is a legendary director whose last two films were flops. Production of his eagerly anticipated next film is set to begin in a week but, stricken by writer’s block, he hasn’t even begun the script. Under intense pressure from the media, he sneaks out of a press conference and goes into hiding with his mistress Carla (Penélope Cruz). As film topics go, watching someone write is probably not the most intrinsically interesting subject matter one could select. Watching someone fail to write…doubly so. [morelink]
Guido makes films about Italy or, more specifically, he makes films about the sort of Italy that people make films about – dapper men in black suits with thin ties riding Vespas through the rain-soaked, cobblestone streets of Milan while expressionless women cling to them. The sort of images immortalized on posters adorning the dorm room walls of theatre students everywhere. Guido lives in a world chockfull of lusty rendezvous and frenzied glamour. The film (the actual film not the one Guido is attempting to make) follows his relationship with seven women: his leading lady Claudia (Nicole Kidman), his costume director Lilli (Judi Dench), an American journalist Stephanie (Kate Hudson), his mother (Sophia Loren), his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), a women from his youth (Stacy Ferguson) and his aforementioned mistress.
Director Rob Marshall, who gave us the wonderful Chicago, attempts to inject some of that film’s energy here. But this time out, “energy” morphs into “chaos”. The film feels as if it’s going in a million directions at once. The musical numbers are, similarly to Chicago, staged chiefly as fantasy sequences. Hollywood has seemingly lost the ability to make a musical where characters exist in a world where they sing to each other. (Hairspray being the rare exception.) The production numbers are a full-frontal assault on the senses; bursting with bombast, innumerable dancers and flashy costumes. However the songs, while solid, aren’t overly memorable. Unless you’re a theatre buff, you most likely have never heard these songs before. Considering the original musical debuted in 1982, that’s not a good sign. You might have never seen Cats but chances are you know Memory; you might have never seen Dreamgirls but you probably know I Am Telling You (seriously, do yourself a favor and click that link). When a 27-year old musical makes its way to the screen without one song preceding it into the public consciousness, you have to ask yourself why?
Nine offers no real entry point into its world. The characters are on the whole unsympathetic. Guido is a narcissistic egotist and the women are either doormats or sex-kittens (though, in fairness, some are both). What worked on the stage is largely lifeless here. Like Italian fashion, it’s stylish but not much else; all form and no function.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being Chicago and 1 being Mamma Mia, Nine gets a 6.