REVIEW: ‘Nine’

Grade: C-

For a film about a director searching for inspiration, Nine plays out like its own director was uninspired. Rob Marshall, the director behind the camera, borrows from his other films, fails to utilize his all-star cast, and delivers an uneven, disjointed cinematic experience. The result adds to the list of failures in the film adapted from a musical that was adapted from a film genre.

Nine is based on the musical that premiered on Broadway in 1982 and had a successful revival in 2003. The music and lyrics are by Maury Yeston and it is often called the distinguished composers best work. Nine was inspired by Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2, the film that is often called the Italian auteur’s masterpiece. With those well-loved source materials preceding the film version of Nine, it had a lot to live up to. Needless to say, the film is likely to be the least remembered of the series.

Rob Marshall missed an opportunity with this film. He managed to assemble a dream cast including recent Oscar winners Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, and Judi Dench as well as Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Fergie, and the great Sophia Lauren. You would think that a cast of this caliber would easily keep your eyes glued to the screen salivating at their combined beauty. However, only a few of the stars hold their own and the rest seem as unfocused as their director seems to be.

Part of the problem may be the fact that Rob Marshall didn’t know what kind of film he wanted to make. Certain individual scenes are shot by shot re-creations of 8 1/2. However, Marshall’s film lacks the dream-like quality that made Fellini’s film so spectacular and overall it felt a lot less personal.

Certain musical numbers that should have dazzled, just didn’t. For instance Judi Dench has a song and dance number for the song “Folies Bergere” and it just didn’t work. Normally Judi Dench can hold her own in any scene, but the combination of her lack of movement, the editing that was too fast-paced, and the lackluster dancing made the number completely forgettable. This was the case with many of the numbers in the film.

Marshall tries too much to replicate the magic of his Oscar-winning film Chicago. He uses stylistic flourishes like jazzy musical numbers that are cross-cut with realistic dialogue. He also uses theatrical lighting that almost exactly replicates the dance numbers in Chicago. The problem is that the city of Chicago circa 1920 is contradictory to Fellini’s Italy circa 1960. Both 8 1/2 and the Broadway version of Nine integrate the dreamlike sequences into the narrative, whereas Marshall makes them disjointed scenes. For me, Marshall’s way just doesn’t work.

The worst moment in the film and to me one of the main reasons it felt so uneven was the new musical addition “Cinema Italiano.” Kate Hudson performs the song that was written by Maury Yeston specifically for the film adaptation (probably with Best Original Song Oscar hopes). The dance number is so cheesy it made me cringe and the lyrics are almost laughable (lines like “Speedy little cars, hip coffee bars” would make Fellini roll in his grave). The song represents the filmmakers’ attempt to cater to the Disney Channel generation and it did not fit into the film at all.

The best performances came from Cruz and Cotillard. Cruz kills in her musical number “Call From the Vatican” and Cotillard shines in both of her stylistically contradicting musical numbers. Each of their respective performances are redeeming moments in the film. Judi Dench is excellent in her non-singing moments. Nicole Kidman was poorly directed, but she still manages to shine in her limited role and her singing voice is just fantastic (for a brief moment during her song I mentally escaped to Moulin Rouge).

The leading man Daniel Day-Lewis acts well, but you get the sense this is the least demanding role he has had in a while. He’s not the greatest singer, but he does his best to sell himself and is admittedly very charming.

On the technical side, the film is strong. Dion Beebe’s cinematography would make Fellini proud, although that too felt uneven as it curiously switches from theatrical to cinematic. Like many of Rob Marshall’s previous films, expect Nine to fare better in the technical Oscar categories than anywhere else.

Bottom Line: Like the protagonist director Guido Contini, I hope that Rob Marshall finds his inspiration soon because Nine is uninspired and boring.

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  • Shame.

  • It really is a shame. This should be on a “biggest missed opportunities of the decade” list.

  • I may still have to see this on DVD, since I adore “Chicago”.

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