I am a little upset with people who are fans of musicals. There isn't enough product to satisfy our desire and when a very good example of this genre is released, we stay away in droves. I simply don't understand why "Nine", the new musical, not to be confused with "9", the recent animated film from Tim Burton, s getting pretty unanimously bad critical reviews. I don't understand why fans of the genre are staying away.
Directed by Rob Marshall ("Chicago"), "Nine" is an adaptation of a very successful Broadway musical adapted from the Fellini film "8 ½". The film contains some very good performances and some amazing vocals and dancing from actors I didn't know could sing or dance. Add to that a beautiful and romantic period setting and you have a film that is a fitting companion piece to "Chicago".
Are fans of this genre waiting for the next Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire? Is that why they are staying away? Do you secretly desire "An American in Paris II" or a remake of "Singin' In The Rain"? That won't happen (I pray to God). As we continue to evolve and our tastes become more modern, the genres we love have to adapt and change along with us. For a long period of time, the only musicals we could see on the big screen were animated. Many of these were great and provided an avenue for talented people. Then, Baz Luhrmann managed to convince 20th Century Fox to let him make "Moulin Rouge". "Chicago", "Mamma Mia", "Hairspray" and more than a few films that should be forgotten followed this. A lot of people didn't like "Moulin Rouge" because of the frantic visual style. I loved it. "Chicago" is a bit more traditional than "Moulin Rouge", allowing the viewer to get involved in the story and characters because they take a moment (every so often) to breath. Now Marshall follows this success with "Nine".
Rome, the 60s. Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), a very successful Italian film director is experiencing writer's block after two of his films have flopped. This is unfortunate because his longtime producer is practically forcing him to make his new film. They have a title, "Italia" and are convinced it will star Claudia Messina (Nicole Kidman), Contini's longtime muse. Even his confidant, and confessor, his longtime costume designer, Lilli (Judi Dench) knows he is having trouble, but she does her best to provide support and a nudge when needed. A set is in production on a huge soundstage at Cincecitta, but Guido is experiencing a midlife crisis and can't come up with anything to write about. When the pressure becomes too great, he runs off to a spa on the Italian peninsula and hides there, trying to escape everyone and everything. He calls his wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard, "La Vie En Rose") and tells her he will be home in a few days. Then he calls his mistress, Carla (Penelope Cruz) and gets her installed in a nearby penzione. When his production team and producer show up at the spa, what was supposed to be rest quickly becomes a working holiday and continues to stress out the famous director. Instead, he begins to remember all of the women in his life and with each memory, comes a new musical number and an equally amusing performance by one of the ladies.
I really liked a lot about what "Nine" is trying to do. Unfortunately, I also think many of the things I like are also the same things keeping people away from the multiplex.
As Guido deals with his writer's block and all of the complications of his life, he begins to remember back to each of the important women in his life and their various influences in shaping who he has become. There are some references to Guido's history with women and the sheer number of sexual partners seems to be large, but there are certain women in his life who are important and he remembers each with fondness. As the memories flood back, Marshall begins to cut some of the most beautiful footage I have seen in a long time into the story, providing us with a biographical glimpse into the director's life. He remembers back to his childhood when he paid a loose woman to show off her private parts to a group of children. This is told through black and white footage and shows the boys running across an Italian beach. When the woman comes out of her hut, "Be Italian" begins and the story cuts back and forth from the footage at the beach to a full-blown musical number featuring singer Fergie (from the Black Eyed Peas) as Saraghina. As the musical number progresses, you begin to realize Saraghina and the many other women in the number are actually on the soundstage back in the studio in Rome, it's iconic roman arches ever present. Yet, the singers are sitting on wooden chairs and flinging sand around. It is a visually striking musical number and quickly establishes how the film will unfold.
Not only do we start to get a feeling for Guido's life leading up to this crisis, we also realize he is, in fact, remembering things that will eventually make it into the film he has to make next. His memories are showing him his next film, guiding him through the narrative before he writes it.
Later, when Carla (Cruz) arrives at the Spa, she sings the song "Guido, Guido, Guido"; cavorting around in an outfit Victoria's Secret would be smart to copy. Carla is deeply in love with Guido and dances using pink velvet ropes and silk.
Judi Dench is surprisingly good when her turn comes. As a major influence in Guido's life, he turns to her for support, guidance, a stern word when needed. She reveals a lot about her background as a fashion designer when she sings the song "Folies Bergere", about her early life designing costumes for the racy nightclub in Paris. Dancers in costumes reminiscent of the popular Parisian show dance around the same Roman arches.
Kate Hudson is also very good as Stephanie, a young American journalist in Rome writing about the director for a magazine. She follows Guido to the spa and flirts with him, the sexual tension increasing exponentially. This footage is intercut with Hudson and a slew of dancers performing "Cinema Italiano", which is, I believe, the one new number written for the film. The musical segment is a lot of fun, very fast paced and done as a tribute to the 60s. Hudson seems to be channeling some of her mom's early persona in the performance.
Marian Cotillard and Nicole Kidman are the two most personal female relationships in his life, so their numbers are more introspective and romantic.
Sophia Loren plays Mamma and it is great to see her on screen as Guido's conscience. But her musical number is least successful because she doesn't appear to be as good a singer or as comfortable singing. It is more of the "talking lyrically" type of song people generally do when they can't do a real musical number.
Overall, the musical numbers are very good. Will they be memorable enough to be remembered in a decade? Two? Three? Will Robert Osborne's clone talk about the film one day on Turner Movie Classics? I don't know. But they are fun to watch.
This is one of those films set in a very specific place where everyone has a different accent. This aspect of the film reminded me a bit of the big budget films produced in the late 50s and early 60s, the type filled with an International cast to ensure box office success around the world. Daniel Day Lewis' Italian accent is impressive and even more impressive, he sings in the accent. Nicole Kidman does an okay job playing the Italian movie star. Marian Cotillard restrains her French accent and seems to be going for a more American sound. Penelope Cruz is just herself. Strangely, Judi Dench doesn't attempt any accent other than her normal voice and her character is French. Altogether, a bit of a strange hodgepodge. I guess it's better for some to not even attempt an accent if they can't do one. Hearing the actor's normal voice helps you forget they should have an accent. If they did a bad one, you'd never hear past it.
Daniel Day Lewis is very good as Guido. At every moment, you can see and feel the world crashing in on him. Forced to attend a news conference to announce the new film, he tries to joke, to flirt, to laugh, all in an effort to hide the fact he hasn't written one word of the script yet. He basically has no idea what the new film should be about. When members of the press get close to unveiling the truth, he flees to the spa.
When he is presented with the opportunity to make a change in life, he seems close to taking these leaps, but ultimately the change seems to hard for him and he reverts back to normal. This only serves to drive his crisis.
I think it is brave of Day-Lewis to take on this role. We have never seen him sing or dance before and he does a good job with the singing. When he breaks out into song, he retains his accent, never letting it falter.
Either his dancing wasn't up to the task, or his musical numbers just weren't designed to involve elaborate dance moves. His dancing resembles what kids would do on a jungle gym on the playground. Hoe holds onto bars and swings around them in large, lazy circles and slides his feet around.
The film is set in Italy in the mid 60s. This gives the film a beautiful look; everything appears romantic and almost fantasy like.
If you're a fan of the genre, I hope you will make an effort to see this film. If we don't support these works, Hollywood will stop making them. I can already tell you the names of two producers who will most likely never produce another musical again.