As a film genre, the musical may be one of the most painstaking missions to take on as a director. Since we do not regularly run around singing and dancing our feelings, the notion of making a movie musical believable is quite the task. Despite this, Rob Marshall, director of the Hollywood hit Chicago, once again takes on this challenge as he aims to repeat his earlier success with NINE. Based on the Tony award winning Broadway musical of the same name loosely inspired by Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical yarn 8 & 1/2, NINE follows an aging film director Guido Contini as he struggles to find inspiration for his new film Italia. Marshall juxtaposes Contini’s fantasy world with that of his warped reality as a way to incorporate the many song and dance numbers. Through the course of the film we are introduced to the many individuals who provide inspiration as Guido discovers what it takes to finally commit to the making of his NINEth film.
As the opening credits would reveal, Rob Marshall will once again aim to translate a larger than life musical into the confines of the cinema screen. Each moment of the fantasy is dealt with a glittery showcase of women who have provided some element of stimulation to a distraught and distracted film director. NINE films to his credit, Maistro Contini aims for another success despite his current mental and emotional state. Even an eager cast and crew cannot motivate the director enough to produce even an elementary script.
Instead, Guido manages to continually find ways to avoid the job he was once famous for by engaging in several indiscretions with former leading ladies. We soon realize that although Contini is married to a beautiful but long-suffering wife (Marion Cotillard), he continues to engage these women in both sexual and emotional acts of love. As the film progresses we begin to see the once confident man transform into nothing more than a helpless and lost soul grieving for his mother’s return. With each attempted failure we are one-by-one introduced to a lady that may somehow bring this man out of a substantial writers block.
From the opening credits, we are presented an impressive list of Hollywood’s finest players including Judi Dench and Sophia Loren in prominent roles as the great auteur’s confidante and mother, respectively. This glittering ensemble, although glorious on paper, does very little to ignite the otherwise flat representation. Instead of using actors that may in fact possess the inherent talent to sing and dance, we are very quickly reminded that everyone involved cannot, and should not, sing. Although the musical numbers are rarely painful, they tend to function as little more than an opportunity for these actors to try something new in front of an eager fan base.
Rob Marshall uses the art of staging and glitz to take the focus off the performers to surely distract the audience from the menial efforts when placed front and center with a number to perform. One of the few standout performances was surprisingly given by film newcomer and veteran pop singer Stacy Ferguson of the Black Eyed Peas. As the only known singer an almost unrecognizable Fergie inhabits her character Saraghina, a working girl from young Guido’s neighborhood, so completely that she manages to give film stars Penelope Cruz (Guido’s tormented mistress) and Nicole Kidman (Guido’s exhausted muse) a run for their money. Kate Hudson, playing the role of a curious American journo, and the aforementioned Cotillard are both adorable in making strong attempt to embrace their alter egos, and yet the response is likely to be more ‘good effort’ than ‘wow.’
As a choreographer, Marshall does clearly understand the art of the musical and yet NINE comes across as a clear copy of his past formula for Chicago without ever coming close to the success. The moments in between musical numbers seem to do nothing more than kill time between one beauty after the other showing the world “what she can do.” Even the most worldly of the bunch, Sofia Loren, is so lackluster that her icon status fails to sustain a watchable performance. Her few scattered moments lack energy and her presence seems nothing more than a self-indulgent choice on the part of the director to cram in as many starlets as possible. There comes a certain point in a career when esteem can no longer sustain a performance and sadly Dame Loren has reached that point.
In contrast, Daniel Day-Lewis sails as the Italian film director and despite his character’s immoral outlook on life Day-Lewis manages to uncover the subtleties in a man that was once known as the filmmaker that shaped the world with his cinematic sexual revolution and fervor for life. Judi Dench as well gives an inspired performance, taking a potentially minor character and managing to give her a sarcastic yet sensitive persona that challenges Contini’s wretched desperation. Her level of talent and energy not only matches the intensity of her young co-stars but proves that a woman can be both sexy and desirable at any age in life.
Marshall uses his training as Broadway choreographer and musical theater enthusiast to create a world where music and art exemplify the vivacious peaks and lowly troughs of life. Although the film fails to reach high expectations and capability of the cast, Marshall still manages to uncover a world worth exploring. The director employs a palette of present color and past grays to provides the viewer with a visual stimulation that explores Italy in the 1950’s. And despite the bleak reality of Contini’s aimed success, Daniel Day-Lewis remains a force that will always take a character persona to the utmost extreme.
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Stacey Ferguson, Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren
Director: Rob Marshall
Runtime: 118 Minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company