Movie Review: Nine
Remember that telephone game we used to play when we were kids? We would start with a certain message at one end, and that message would be sent from person to person until it reaches the end of the chain. The farther down the chain the message got, the more opportunities there were for it to be manipulated or misconstrued. The ending message was rarely the same as the one that initially started the chain. It might be similar in content, but the phrasing and delivery of the two messages are usually quite different.
Such is the case with Nine, the new movie musical which was adapted from a Broadway play of the same name. The play itself underwent several revivals and was inspired by Frederico Fellini’s landmark 1963 film, 8 1/2. In a sense, Nine is more of a re-imagining of Fellini’s classic than just purely a musical rendition.
Nine is the story of an accomplished Italian film director named Guido Contini, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. He is coming off a couple of recent flops and is feeling the pressure from his producer to get to work on his next film, tentatively titled Italia. He has no screenplay, casted actors or even a general direction for what will become his ninth film.
He is also forced to juggle the many women in his life. Among them are his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penelope Cruz), his muse (Nicole Kidman) and an American journalist (Kate Hudson). Judi Dench plays his costume designer, and Sophia Loren plays his deceased mother in several flashback and fantasy sequences. Fergie also shows up in a few scenes as a whore from Guido’s youth.
Day-Lewis’s version of Guido is much more of a showman than the original character we saw played by Marcello Mastrioanni in 8 1/2. He is arrogant, selfish and unapologetic. He relishes in the attention of a press conference, joking and laughing with the crowd. This is a far cry from the shy, introverted Guido we saw running from crowds and hiding under tables during press conferences in 8 1/2. The modern version of Guido has become more unlikable, and I lost a little bit of concern for his character because of these few subtle changes.
Each character gets their own musical number (with DDL and Cotillard each getting two since they are the leads), the best of which coming from Fergie. This scene nicely replicates the original scene of a young Guido paying visit to a local whore, and combines it with the addition of the song and dance, “Be Italian.” It seems unfair, but Fergie’s vocals in this song blow everyone else’s out of the water. This scene gives us a look at what inspired Guido to become the type of person he has become, starting at a very early age.
“Cinema Italiano” is the lone original song written specifically for this movie, and is a fun little number performed by Kate Hudson. It has the look of a contemporary music video, giving it a much fresher feel than the rest of the theater-made tunes from the rest of the movie. The rest of the songs are pretty forgettable, save a few exceptionally sexy moments from Penelope Cruz.
Nine is stunningly lit and shot, and does an interesting job of incorporating black and white shots to separate fantasy/flashbacks from reality. Unfortunately, many of the sets are a little theater-esque. It doesn’t seem like the filmmakers did enough work to adapt the play for a true cinematic experience. At times, I even felt like I was watching a play being projected on the big screen. Even still, it is always beautiful and entertaining.
Nine might never reach the legendary status of its source material, but it should carve itself a niche as a fabulously star-studded modern musical and a welcomed entry to a genre that most current filmmakers seemingly deem too risky to dabble in.