What works on the stage doesn't always translate well to the screen. There's a completely different dynamic when you take songs, dances and music from a live venue and put the same songs into a film. Just having good songs alone won't guarantee success. There needs to be cohesion between a compelling story that takes the audience from song to song.
Nine, based on a hit 1982 Broadway musical (which was itself based on Federico Fellini's 1963 film 8 1/2), is an example of taking a group of songs, attaching a slack story, letting a bunch of movie stars unleash their inner songstress and expecting it to turn out like gold. In this case it doesn't work at all. In fact, Nine is one of the more underwhelming films of 2009 and doesn't deliver a worthy adaptation of the previous musical or Fellini's original source material.
It's 1963 Rome, and Daniel Day-Lewis plays Guido Contini, a famous, beloved Italian film director who is 10 days from starting Italia, his next great film.
There's a lot of pressure on Contini as he's had a couple of flops in a row. Everyone expects something from Contini--his producer, the press, his wife, his mistress, the public--but what causes him the most stress is he has no script and no story. It's hard to make legendary cinema with absolutely no ideas on what to film, and this begins to put Contini in a suffocating bind. Juggling various women sure doesn't help either.
As the days pass, Contini looks to all the women around him for inspiration. There is his mother (Sophia Loren), wife (Marion Cotillard), mistress (Penelope Cruz), costumer (Judi Dench), childhood memory (Stacy Ferguson), flirtatious American (Kate Hudson) and actress muse (Nicole Kidman).
While this might seem like an invigorating group of female muses, none of them are able to pull Contini out of his creative funk. He lets his imagination take over regarding the women and this means song and dance numbers for us all.
Nine is directed by Rob Marshall. Marshall is becoming something of a much less innovative Busby Berkeley for the 2000s as this is his third foray into the realm of the musical--I'm counting his TV version of Annie. I liked his take on Chicago (2002) as that was a lively, vigorous crowd pleasing film that had great songs and a terrific story. Nine has neither of those things.
The previously mentioned cast is full of "names," but there are lots of mistakes among them. While I worship at the altar of all things Daniel Day-Lewis, I'm still trying to figure out just why he agreed to be in Nine? Was it his much-publicized love of Italy? Was it his desire to show off his singing voice and limited dance moves on screen? Was it the fact he'd be surrounded by a bevy of Hollywood starlets?
Only he can say.
Unfortunately, he spends nearly the entire film in a state of anguish, guilt and turmoil that unfortunately looks as if he's in the grips of severe stomach troubles. One of Day-Lewis' worst roles ever. You'd have to go all the way back to 1989's Eversmile, New Jersey to find something to rival it.
The rest of the cast has some good moments, some not so good. Cruz gets a juicy role as the vamp and delivers a sex-drenched song and has some of the most interesting scenes in the film. There's not enough Cruz in Nine, though. Cotillard, who we know can sing as she portrayed Edith Piaf in 2007 and took home an Oscar for her troubles, so it should be no surprise when she delivers emotional, heartfelt songs as the put-upon wife of the womanizing Contini. Those were the highlights in the cast.
Now the lowlights. I hope I never have to see Kate Hudson sing a song again. She plays a bubbly, coquettish reporter for Vogue who attempts to take Contini to bed. Then, she tortures the rest of us while channeling her inner Britney in a retro homage to Italian style. Ugh. The same goes for the increasingly plasticine Kidman. When she shows up to deliver her song and to torment Contini, the film comes to a complete dead stop. I thought for a second we were in an intermission but then realized Kidman and Day-Lewis were still on the screen exchanging bad dialogue. Can I get another "ugh?"
It's pretty simple how to make a musical work--either have great dance numbers (something Berkeley amazed audiences with) or have great songs. Nine has neither of those traits.
The songs just aren't that catchy. They are too repetitive. Too often they have a dated, bombastic quality that might work on Broadway but doesn't quite transform to the screen. The dancing elements to Nine is just a group of variations on the same set-up on a stage with some of the performers being more adept at moving their bodies than others.
While Nine might be a great musical from Broadway lore, Rob Marshall's film version of it is not good at all. It's an exercise in how to take a musical and make it as infuriating, lifeless, dull and joyless as possible. Nine is one of the biggest disappointments of 2009.
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