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"Nine" Notes

By admin Published: December 22, 2009

After the jump, my review of "Nine," the new screen musical. On the star system we use at the paper, I would have given it 2 1/2, more than "Sherlock Holmes," less than "Avatar" or "Up in the Air." As you can read, I was disappointed.
By the way, I also talk about "Nine," as well as "Survivor" and other topics, in my latest online video over at

On paper, Nine looks like a great idea. It's based on a Tony award-winning musical. It's directed by Rob Marshall, who did such a fine job with the big-screen Chicago. Its big-name cast includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren, Marion Cotillard and Nicole Kidman ` every one an Academy Award winner.
But in spite of some impressive musical performances (by Cruz and Fergie in particular) and the expected terrific acting work from Day-Lewis, the movie is a disappointment. It unsuccessfully tries to blend an homage to the cinematic style of the great Italian director Federico Fellini with big musical numbers, and the two pieces do not fit. Nor is all the casting quite right; Kidman especially seems a poor choice for this piece.
Like the original stage musical, Nine is inspired by Fellini's 8 1/2 -- although Marshall's direction, and the script by Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella, appear to have drawn a great deal from Fellini's La Dolce Vita as well. And both those films, like so much of Fellini's work, are rooted in his own life.
Day-Lewis plays the Fellini-esque Guido Contini, a beloved director who is supposed to start a new movie but is mentally and emotionally blocked.
Over the course of the movie, his attempt to get past his barriers involves dealing with the women in his life, among them his wife (Cotillard), his mistress (Cruz), a former leading lady (Kidman), his mother (Loren), a prostitute (Fergie) and a longtime associate (Dench).
The film goes back in forth between a soundstage where musical numbers are presented and the messy, motion-filled places in Guido's daily life and memories, including lines taken whole from 8 1/2. This is a much tougher nut to crack than Chicago, where there was a more accessible, and clearer, story to tell.
Day-Lewis offers a vivid portrait of frustration, weariness and more than a little immaturity, with blasts of humor and even touching flourishes as Guido wrestles with his past and his long-gone innocence. His immersion in his role is well matched by Cruz and Cotillard, each playiing someone who is both a beneficiary and a victim of Guido's attention. And they are counterposed with Kidman's character, who has become an obsession to Guido if only because she has also become unattainable.
It's a rich pageant in many ways, and one drenched in desire, especially when Cruz turns her sexual power on high for a musical number. Fergie is an impressively earthy presence in her portion of the film, and her song is one of the film's high points. On the other hand, Dench, though watchable, never seems part of the movie's Italian milieu. And Kidman, in spite of some formidable fashion architecture, still looks too thin for a film that more often celebrates the lush bodies of another time and place.
The musical pieces, some of them interesting as isolated elements, tend over time to feel too bound by their roots in stage pieces. Nor do they mesh with the non-musical portions, where Marshall tries so hard to ape Fellini's style instead of creating where the seams between narrative and music are not so evident.
Nine has its virtues, as I have said. But not enough. Not with this foundation. Not with this pedigree.

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