Mark Reviews Movies

NINE

1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Rob Marshall

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Fergie

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and smoking)

Running Time: 1:58

Release Date: 12/18/09 (limited); 12/25/09 (wide)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 26, 2009

In talking about the stage play of Nine, a musical variation (or, better, deviation) of Fellini's , during an interview, composer and lyricist Maury Yeston said of the title of his work: "I thought, if you add music, it's like half a number more." Yeah. Right.

Let's take this blasé explanation as evidence that the authors of Nine had absolutely no intention of staying faithful to the Fellini film and just try to ignore the connection as much as possible. It's a lost battle for the adaptation anyway. Instead, we'll just look at Rob Marshall's screen adaptation of the stage show and try to ignore Fellini's brilliant meditation on life in and through the cinema as much as the creators of this adaptation did.

Like the Fellini film before it, the movie follows Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis), a director with a case of director's block. With the press and his producers hounding him for any little scrap of information about the film (the only nugget the producers feed the journalists is that it's about Italy), Guido leaves Rome behind to hide away with his mistress Carla (Penélope Cruz).

Everyone follows him to the hotel, turning his sanctuary into the center of production. This includes his costume designer (Judi Dench), an American fashion reporter (Kate Hudson), the actress everyone wants in the movie (Nicole Kidman), and his wife (Marion Cotillard). He's also haunted by visions of his mother (Sophia Loren) and a prostitute (Fergie) he paid to dance for his friends as a kid. They are all introduced in a "Ladies and Gentlemen, the cast" moment in an early scene set within Guido's massive set that serves no purpose except to show us how many stars are here. Actually, that seems to be the point of the movie as a whole.

If you have even a slim knowledge of , the movie will at least make a bit of sense, and on the surface, it follows the basic idea of the original. That's where the comparison ends.

Whereas the Guido of  had an idea for a film, the Guido here has none. The Fellini film was about how the film itself was analyzed and dissected by others and Fellini himself. It was self-critical yet joyous. Since this Guido has no movie, this movie is ultimately about nothing.

Marshall, by the mere act of taking on this material, seems fine with pomposity. How else do you explain the Dench character scolding Guido to make movies that are fun, with singing and dancing and not a lick of thought. Since the script ignores whatever insights Guido or others might have about his work, that's basically all we're left with here. Guido meets the women as, one by one, they then break the fifth wall into the movie's massive Italy set to give us a musical number. He is here only so the women can have a reason to be around; the women are only around to sing about the most obvious, frivolous things they kind of, sort of represent.

Dench's character sings of entertaining an audience. The fashion reporter sings how much she loves Italian cinema. Kidman's actress sings of how she loves him. Fergie's Saraghina wails about being Italian. The wife sings a song called, I kid you not, "My Husband Makes Movies." She's not too happy about it is the point. The songs do nothing to expand upon any of the characters and hence only highlight that this is solely a star piece about how many familiar faces can be crammed up on the screen.

The musical scenes not only break entirely, suddenly from the setting and style of the rest of the movie but also are incredibly dull. Marshall films it from afar, either straight on or at a 45-degree angle, with little variation. There's a lot of stagy lighting, gaudy costumes, and chairs. Editors Claire Simpson and Wyatt Smith make no attempt to transition these scenes from the talky portions of the movie, which make the singy parts stand out even more. In one unforgivable moment, Hudson sings of loving the black-and-white cinematography of Guido's oeuvres, and seconds later, we suddenly see her in bright color, surrounded by guys in black suits and sunglasses. How did no one catch such a sickening stylistic divergence of words and images?

That song, written specially for the movie, is at least catchy (though a bit of a clunky mouth-full), while the others are forgettable for their lack of resonance with theme or the characters.  Day-Lewis does nothing here but look moody or admiring of his female co-stars and occasionally swing around his set like it's the world's biggest jungle gym (symbolic of a mind racing around with thoughts of nothing, I guess).

Marshall pulled this trick before and far more successfully with Chicago, although now I have to believe he simply lucked out with that material (and a smarter editor who understood how the music fits into and comments upon the narrative). Nine is a piecemeal musical, lacking in energy. It lacks any evidence of a clear, overall vision. In concept, it's a bad idea; in execution, it's much worse.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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