Directed by Rob Marshall. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren, Fergie, Ricky Tognazzi. (2009, PG-13, 118 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 25, 2009
For a film director whom we’re told is creatively blocked, Guido Contini (Day-Lewis) has a rich panorama of images cascading about his brain. Most of his images are of the women in his life dancing about elaborate stages in corsets, except, as befits an Italian man of the 1960s, his beloved Mamma (Loren), whose black garb is set off by the prominent crucifix dangling in her décolletage, and his betrayed wife, Luisa (Cotillard), whose hairdo and ladylike demeanor resemble that of the swan-necked Audrey Hepburn. Otherwise, more corsets appear in the movie Nine than in your average Victoria’s Secret fashion show. The movie is Marshall’s adaptation of the twice-produced Broadway musical, which itself was an outgrowth of Federico Fellini’s 1963 Italian film classic 8½. Marshall, whose previous films include the popular but unarresting adaptation of the stage hit Chicago and the visually beautiful but listless Memoirs of a Geisha, has gathered in Nine an impressive stable of on- and off-screen talent but never gets these various pieces to jell. It’s a bold move to film a musical with cast members who, apart from Fergie and Cotillard, are not known to possess any singing or dancing skills. The good news is that all of them are game; the bad news is that, for the most part, there appears to be good reason for most of them to have kept their singing confined to their shower stalls at home. Ultimately, nothing truly embarrassing makes it to the screen but each musical number gives the appearance of having been doctored to within an inch of its life with crazy pans, cuts, differing film stocks, and jewel-bedecked costumes constantly grabbing our focus and shifting our eyes toward the next glittery doodad Marshall tosses in our path. Each woman performs one song except for Cotillard, who gets two, and each is a signature piece that defines, one-dimensionally, the character’s role in the movie. In addition to Cotillard’s wife, there are Dench’s longtime costume designer and Contini confidante, Cruz’s sexpot mistress (singing while performing a bump and grind), Kidman’s movie goddess modeled on Anita Ekberg, Hudson’s Vogue reporter (performing one of the new tunes written for the movie), Fergie’s beach-dwelling whore (who introduces little Italian boys to the mysteries of sex), and sainted Mamma Loren. Day-Lewis also performs and dances two numbers, and though he does so obligingly, the end result reveals the chinks in this great actor’s performance arsenal. Also, most of the film’s music is instantly forgettable, which can never be a good sign for a musical’s longevity. Though there is plenty of razzle-dazzle onscreen, Nine is unlikely to ignite many sparks among viewers.