Monday, December 28, 2009

"Nine" - REVIEW


Disclaimer: I have never seen the Broadway musical "Nine," I have only seen the very first link in the chain, Federico Fellini's 1963 masterpiece 8 1/2. It's not that I intend to use that classic as a means to judge the hell out of Rob Marshall's film (now excuse me while I take a moment to glare daggers at the critics). But it is in certain areas, unavoidable.

Nine is in some ways a curious film. Though it's most definitely a return to form for Rob Marshall after that gorgeous-but-boring snooze called Memoirs of a Geisha, it's not quite the knockout that his 2002 Best Picture winner Chicago was; maybe that's why Marshall chose to adapt a musical about a man dealing with creative struggle. Regardless, Nine is still a worthy film, albeit not the instant-wowzer that some of the other musicals of this decade have been. I hate to repeat the laziness of my Sherlock Holmes, but this is a film built upon its ensemble of women (plus director, of course). So who do we start with? Hmmm, let's try...

The Wife: Well, the one thing the reviews have nailed is that Marion Cotillard is the best-in-show knockout of the cast. As Guido's long-suffering wife, Cotillard nails both of her songs (one of which is new), as well as her non-singing moments. The pain, the love, and most riveting of all, the hidden fury, are remarkable to watch. If there's anyone who comes close to echoing her role in 8 1/2, it's Cotillard (Anouk Aimee played the wife in Fellini's film), with her finest moment of course being the screen test scene. Cotillard is truly the heart of the film. Now if only Mr. Weinstein would switch her campaign to supporting actress, she might have a better chance.

The Mistress: Slightly downsized from 8 1/2, Penelope Cruz is enormously entertaining, though the role would have benefitted from another scene or two. That said, her rendition of "A Call from the Vatican" is sexy as hell, and she nails both the goofiness of Carla as well as her desperation when Guido grows apart from her.

The Confidant: Dame Judi Dench probably could have done this role in her sleep, which is why we should be thankful that she decides to really put some effort into the role. As Guido's costume designer and no-nonsense adviser, she's not afraid to tell Guido to cut the crap and man-up. But what's really a surprise is her rendition of "Folies Bergere," which starts slow and builds to quite the finish. She also has a key scene with Day-Lewis near the film's end, which adds a degree of heart to the film, just barely balancing the scale between feeling and flash.

The Muse: If there's one role that feels expanded in Marshall's film, it's that of the Guido's muse and favorite actress, Claudia Jennsen (Kidman). Though the role was played by Claudia Cardinale in Fellini's film, Kidman is made to look more like an homage to Anita Eckberg in Fellini's other masterpiece, La Dolce Vita. Regardless, the film gives Kidman more to do as Claudia than Cardinale ever got to do in 8 1/2. Her conversation with him about her role on film and in his life, intercut with Kidman's lovely rendition of "Unusual Way," is another one of those moments keeping the film from being a series of music videos. (Note: Claudia in this film is supposed to be Swedish, which is why Kidman does not even try to have an Italian accent)

The Mother: Making more appearances that I anticipated, Sophia Loren's role is not difficult, but the use of her song is a gentle touch, and her presence is undiminished after all of these years.

The Whore: Fergie's role in the film boils down to an odd split between "role" and "song." To be clear, this isn't an acting role, even in the flashbacks, but my issue with what Marshall shows us is that Saraghina seems too tame. The reason the original character is so memorable is her zany, slightly carnal, slightly deranged, outrageousness. That said, her rendition of "Be Italian" is a knockout, even though I wish the extended audio track (with the same amount of singing but with more music/choreography) had been used.

The Journalist: While Judi Dench's role may not have been in Fellini's film, it was in the stage show. That's not the case with Kate Hudson. Stephanie, an American Vogue journalist obsessed with Guido's films (or maybe just Guido himself) is a totally new character, and at times you can feel it. Stephanie needs more scenes, or at least slightly longer ones, because after her song, her story arc just ends. Like that. No parting words, nothing. She's done. It's a weird moment because her song is extremely lively and Hudson is having a blast. It's a shame the role couldn't have been written to feel less superfluous.

But in the end, these women, ALL of them, are but supporting players. They all revolve around our one and only...

Guido: If there's anyone who's received undeserved flack for this film, it's Day-Lewis. No, he's not the effortless charmer that Marcello Mastroianni was, but why should he be? Yes the role is a shade darker, but to call this new Guido a thoroughly unlikeable misogynist is totally over the top. He's certainly not a perfect individual (and never was), but a despicable character? That's a joke. Of course, Day-Lewis nails the role, although it isn't as typically compelling as his other performances, seeing as the role is meant to be more of a vessel for the director. There's an odd combination of empty vessel and detailing (thanks to Day-Lewis) at play here, which makes for a strange, though ultimately satisfying ending to this film without a traditionally satisfying plot. And besides, the finale is absolutely perfect, which creates a beautiful homage to the end of 8 1/2: a fusion of the artistic and personal, the real and the fantastic. Not the best musical of the decade, but far FAR from the worst.

Grade: B

3 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Very nice review. I guess Nine can't be the film everyone loves like I hope, but so many of the people giving it bad ratings have their major gripe as the lack of "hummable songs". How shallow. Glad you liked it.

jbaker475 said...

Aw, thanks, man. Yeah, it's a shame it wasn't more generally liked, which I was hoping for. The complaints about the songs kind of pissed me off too. I really don't have a problem with someone finding it to be "blah" or "severely average", but to label it as a travesty (*cough*A.O. Scott*cough*) is a bit...extreme, methinks.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I have not seen it yet, have to wait till next year. But I am certain that people who are undecided just jump on the bashing bandwagon because it's looking really cool now. On RT for example, some reviews are fair and it's still called rotten. And the 81/2 comparisons are so effusive. Ah well. I feel bad for those involved.