A film review by Craig J. Koban January 5, 2010
2009, PG-13, 112 mins.
2009, PG-13, 112 mins.
Guido: Daniel Day-Lewis / Luisa: Marion Cotillard / Carla: Penelope
Cruz / Lilli: Judi Dench / Saraghina: Fergie / Stephanie: Kate
Hudson / Claudia: Nicole Kidman / Mamma: Sophia Loren
face it, musicals are not every red blooded man’s cup of tea, but anyones
out there that considers this genre ostensibly caught within the
no-man’s zone of the “chick flick” need to rush out and see
NINE. This is a movie musical designed exclusively for readers of FHM and MAXIM.
It contains some of the most exquisitely sexy and attractive women
in the industry strutting, swinging, shaking, and singing their ways into
our collective pornographic fantasies.
On those levels, Marshall’s film is an absolute triumph of
smolderingly risqué voyeurism; you want hot women showing why they are hot for two hours,
then this is required viewing.
beyond the sinful pleasures of seeing most of the actresses here cavort
around with a carnal, hedonistic intensity, NINE is a film that never
really lingered within me even minutes after I left the theatre.
Perhaps part of the problem is that the whole enterprise –
despite containing ravishing art and set direction, costumes, and period
detail - never really gels or gains momentum as a rip roaring musical
fantasia. Few film musicals
have left me feeling as distant and empty after the credits rolled by as
NINE: Yes, the film is awash in musical/dance numbers, and some are indeed
show stoppers, but too many of them are cluttered, uninspired, and feel perfunctory, like something you would see out of the Broadway Show Tune 101
playbook. Even worse is that
the whole film itself feels more like an elongated MTV video/ trailer;
those artistically aggressive flourishes worked awe inspired wonders for
MOULIN ROGUE (still the best musical of the decade) but it proves more
distracting and distancing here.
The razzle dazzle on display in NINE also helps to exacerbate another
large dilemma: this film is completely overshadowed by the legendary
legacy of one of the most critical lauded films of last century.
Federico Fellini fundamentalists will, no doubt, have much to
chastise here while sitting through NINE, and I can’t really blame them.
Marshall’s film is an adaptation of an adaptation: it’s based
on Arthur Kopit’s book for the 1982 Tony Award winning musical, which in
turn was derived from an Italian play by Mario Fratti inspired by
Fellini’s 1963 film, 8½.
The stage musical was popular when released in 1982 and ran for 729
performances. Having never
seen the musical - but having seen the 1963 film version numerous times - I can conclude that NINE is not really concerned
at all with tackling some of Fellini’s themes.
was a startling evocation on the nature of
how artistic impulses battled financial ones while making a film
as well as showing how a filmmaker struggled with massive creative block.
Those themes were paramount to Fellini’s effort (many have
labeled the film as slyly autobiographical), but in NINE they are
lamentably undeveloped: they essentially exist in the background and are
brought to forefront whenever convenient.
story for NINE – written by late Anthony Minghella and Michael Tolkin – does recycle some of the plot threads from Fellini’s landmark
film, which in turn was a reflection of Fellini the man and filmmaker.
8½. dealt with
its main character’s paranoia, guilt, obsession, and artistic
self-loathing and, in part, so does Marshall's film. Guido (Daniel
Day Lewis, a Brit that's about as Italian as a Ukrainian lad from
Saskatoon) is a revered and popular Italian film director that, in the
mid-1960’s, is attempting to begin preparations for his next motion
picture. The problem is that
his last few films were notable financial and critical disasters, so he
feels added pressure to really persevere and return to form.
His next film, his ninth, is to be called “Italia” and is
shrouded in secrecy. Actually, there are two things that Guido reveals to the
press (in one of the film’s better sequences): (a) the film will
be called “Italia” and (b) it will star his career-muse, Claudia
(Nicole Kidman). What
he does refuse to reveal is that he is suffering
from the largest case of writer’s block in his career.
Not only has this stalled at penning the film’s script, but he has
failed to even start it.
trying to make his next film a crowd pleasing reality, Guido is struck by
other mid-life dilemmas, like his womanizing and adulterous ways that are
steadily catching up to haunt him. His
guilt over not starting his script is mirrored by
his guilt over the women he has be sleeping with outside of his marriage.
Guido finds himself entangled with not one, not two, not three, but
four women (one of which is a figure from his past).
All of the women, in some form or another, are infatuated with him:
First there is his loving, but emotionally guarded and timid wife (Marion
Cotillard, an absolutely exquisite, natural beauty, ); his sultry and seductive leading lady Claudia; a spunky, Go-Go
girl inspired Vogue reporter (a slinky Kate Hudson); his slightly loopy and
unstable mistress (a ravishing Penelope Cruz), and even a mysterious and enigmatic
female presence from his childhood (Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas).
Two other women complicate Guido’s life, but in more platonic
ways: His fiercely loyal costume designer (a lively Judi Dench) always acts as his
moral compass and his mother (Sophia Loren) always finds a way to be a
thorn in his side. One thing
is abundantly clear: no mortal man could handle the likes of Kidman,
Cotillard, Cruz, and Kidman all vying for his sexual gratification.
already mentioned, NINE rages though its running time with its simmering
and blistering sexuality, provided by its lively quartet of fetching female stars. This just may
be the hottest PG-13 film I’ve seen, and even though NINE contains no
blatant nudity or lewdness, there is a copious amount of overt sensual innuendo.
This is essentially a film about drop-dead gorgeous women
tormenting a deeply neurotic and guilt-ridden man, and the sensuality is
never kept in check here. Whenever
the women appear on screen, NINE is a wondrous, eye-gasmic delight. Some of the numbers
are real scorchers, like a mind-blowingly sexy Penelope Cruz swaggering
and contorting her scantily clad visage to massively agreeable effects (I
never knew she was so...er...flexible), and
another late number appropriately called “Take It All” delivered by
Cotillard that all but confirms my belief that she is one of the most
radiant and passionate actress around: it’s impossible to
take your eyes off her. And
– wow! – what a revelation Kate Hudson is here, as her lavish,
colorful and frivolously fun “Cinema Italiano” shows a snarky
charisma and energy that I’ve never seen in her before.
Oh yeah…she’s really hot too.
are a few other numbers I liked, especially Fergie’s where she plays a
beach babe from Guido’s past that hits every note in “Be Italian”
(the film’s finest song) with a hefty sonic vigor.
That, and the film does look sensational: Marshall uses a
combination of color and black and white images sandwiched together to
create an interesting mosaic of a different time and place, and the
costumes by Dion Beebe and production design by John Myhre are sumptuously
rock solid. However, as good
as the film looks and as much raw appeal that most of the actresses
muster, there is not much else in NINE that is altogether memorable or
lasting. The film contains
ten songs (three of which were original to this film), but I could
probably only hum two or three of them in my head days after seeing it.
Most of them are awkwardly choreographed and staged, not to mention
that the overall film lacks unity with them.
NINE is colorful and energetic, but you never gain a sense that there
is cohesion between all of the numbers.
Plus, some of the lyrics themselves are real groan inducing: it’s
sad to hear limitlessly talented actresses like Cotillard bellow out tacky,
my two biggest disappointments in the film are Daniel Day Lewis and Nicole
Kidman. Day Lewis is easily
one of the greatest actors of his generation, and he certainly is up to
the task of matching the women with his vocal range, but he infuses in
Guido so much dour, method-inspired pessimism and pathos that it’s almost as
if he forgot to have fun with the role (Marcello Mastroianni he
ain’t, but then again, who is?).
Kidman, on the other hand, should have fared better (she was
miraculously assured and picturesque in MOULIN ROGUE), but here she is
reduced to more of a brief cameo than a fully realized character (she
apparently was a very last minute replacement for Catherine Zeta Jones,
and it shows). Plus, her
“big” song number, “Unusual Way,” is a tedious, watch-checking
I can definitely understand why Marshall wished to return to the screen musical: his 2002 effort, CHICAGO, ran away with the Best Picture Oscar (still, for my money, one of the most undeserving winners ever). He has a good eye for period detail and he’s competent enough to handle NINE’s untamed and burlesque theatricality. Yet, the film never attains a liberating feel of reckless abandon, nor does it create much enthusiasm in the underlining story (without the music and songs, NINE would definitely feel nine hours long). I became really hot-blooded with the onslaught of seductive women on display here (it’s a spectacular looking film aside from the obvious art direction), but beyond the insatiable cover girl allure, NINE fails to immerse and astound as it should have.
and it certainly feels like 8½