With Rob Marshall’s latest musical effort Nine it is no surprise that the only thing he able to perfect was his marketing campaign and diversity in casting choices. If any of you have the expectation or hope that Marshall’s interpretation of a Fellini classic is even close to his Academy Award winning 2002 jazz musical Chicago, please make sure your expectations are lowered immediately.
The simplistic story begins with Guido Contini, the always hypnotizing Daniel Day-Lewis, a cinematic God and notorious socialite. Contini is on the verge of releasing details on his newest feature Italia without a script and without inspiration. Throughout the film, Guido looks to an array of women for inspiration and direction. In his attempt to find inspiration to complete the film, Contini is forced to recollect moments of pure confusion and equal nostalgia with many of the women who eventually dictate his feature film. From his deceased mother (Sophia Loren); to his good friend and costume designer Lilli (Judi Dench); his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), an American fashion journalist, Stephanie (Kate Hudson); his mistress, Carla (Penelope Cruz); and his muse, Claudia (Nicole Kidman) Guido relies on each of these women to create a masterpiece of cinema, glorifying the beautiful country he is so passionate about.
Unless one is aware of the production history surrounding Nine, it is almost impossible to notice that the film itself is based on Arthur Kopit’s book by the same name, which came from an Italian play by Mario Fratti deriving from the inspiration of Federico Fellini’s autobiographical cinematic masterpiece 8 ½ — now that just sounds like intertextuality at its best! And in the kindest and most gentle words imaginable, Fellini must be doing cartwheels in his grave right about now. For the most part, Nine plays in the same fashion as Zack Snyder’s 300, a film which serves little other purpose than to romanticize the image of the human body, in this case the female form.
There is no doubt that in each and every frame of this film every woman on screen is desirable, emitting a bright and shining light of beauty. Carla (Cruz) is sensual and sexy parading around in a burlesque type musical number; Luisa (Cotillard) is passionate and tame, yet delivers a revealing and emotional act. Although Kidman’s performance along with Hudson’s Westernized personas seemed to be overshadowed by their fellow European counterparts, they allow audience members to remain somewhat intrigued despite the film’s predictable and unimaginative ending.
In my most honest and raw opinion, a musical on film should be a piece of work that relies heavily on the music and one that could not be imagined or understood without the melody, like Chicago. But for the most part, Nine seemed to be more of a drama that forced the music through its characters and created a placid and unexciting conflict in the character’s world.
Although the film itself seemed to force the voice it tried to have, there were one or two musical numbers that had me tapping my feet and wanting to sing along as I left the theatre. By far the best and most appreciating musical segment belonged to the least talented Stacey “Fergie” Ferguson. Fergie’s dialogue absent role was the climax and most wonderful part of Nine; her muted portrayal of the tainted prostitute who inspires Guido into the world of lust and cinema was by far the most cinematic and wonderful to indulge in — both musically and visually. Fergie definitely brought vintage Italian sounds into Nine. Surprisingly enough was Guido, perhaps Day-Lewis’ weakest in recent memory; Day-Lewis seemed to struggle on screen vocally and offer little to no empathy to his character and his struggles. His accent was inconsistent, his Italian was choppy and his hair was overly greased.
In turn, Nine tried to do what Chicago had already done, and that was bring back the razzle, dazzle and spa-dazzle back into cinema; that pure sense of entertainment; song, dance, music and spectacle to the screen in an overly obvious entertainment industry setting. Unfortunately for director Rob Marshall and company, I guess all that anyone could ask for is that instead of being Italian, just be yourself, and leave the Italian for the future Fellini’s of cinema.