First published in Trespass 16/01/2010
The perfect movie musical should leave you singing for hours after the lights have come up. You should want to leap from your seat as soon as the credits roll and dance down the cinema aisles, jazz hands a-wriggling. Musical numbers should soar, dance routines should fizz, and the scenes with neither should be tight and slick and maintain the necessary pace. And most importantly, movie musicals need structure to avoid the slippery descent into the old music-video-montage.
Nine, the latest from Chicago director Rob Marshall, has so many stars in it, it should be blinding. It has some wonderful moments of energy and visual beauty but the film is overall inconsistent and at times incoherent with the unfortunate niggling feeling bubbling beneath the surface that the story simply isn’t worth telling.
Originally a film (1963’s 8 ½ ) Nine was turned into a Broadway production (1983 and then again in 2003) and has now finds its latest incarnation as a film, under the direction of Rob Marshall. It tells the story of Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) a famed Italian director in the 1960s who has hit a creative wall with his impending film, Italia. Unable to eat, sleep and at times breathe, he is confronted by the crumbling of his hedonistic lifestyle as his mistress (Penelope Cruz) grows dangerously attached, his wife (Marion Cotillard) increasingly saddened and disappointed by his adultery and his muse (Nicole Kidman) disenchanted with their working relationship . In an effort to breakthrough the anguish, he reflects on the women from his past and present, including his mother (Sophia Loren) Vogue journalist (Kate Hudson) seamstress and confidante (Judi Dench) and local prostitute from his childhood (Stacey Ferguson).
The cast largely handle the singing adequately. Clearly Fergie nails her number, Be Italian, and Kate Hudson isn’t half bad in her high energy Cinema Italiano. We all know Nicole Kidman can hold a tune and Penelope Cruz is far too saucy in her solo to even notice moments of questionable pitch. But they aren’t helped by the music, which, save for one or two numbers, is somewhat forgettable.
There’s a battle between a Nicole on auto-pilot and a, frankly, underwhelming Sophia to see whose face can move the least (it’s a tie) and the always on form Judi Dench teaches them both a lesson in graceful ageing. Kate Hudson is cute and suitably minxy (and she can move) and we are spared the potential singer-actress disaster because Stacey Ferguson doesn’t act. Penelope Cruz is vulnerable and expressive and Daniel Day-Lewis is completely believable (and forgivable) as a self centred, enabled creative genius. But it’s Marion Cotillard who quietly steals the show, pulling at the reins of a horse that threatens to lose control and indeed sight of itself, and providing the film with much needed genuine emotion. She does this despite having one of the more lyrically questionable numbers in the entire film.
Despite some wonderful moments and often beautiful and interesting visual sequences, Nine just doesn’t shine as brightly as it could. It’s too long, lacks the vital ingredient of structure and considering I spent the entire second half mentally recasting Nicole Kidman, it may or may not be a case of too many stars ruining the broth.