What’s wrong and what’s right with ‘Nine’

12.05.09 8 years ago 11 Comments

Here’s the lowdown on the highly anticipated movie musical “Nine”: Rob Marshall’s latest ‘should’ still get nominated for Best Picture, but that’s only because there are ten nominations and the competition is weak. A blunt assessment to be sure, but the truth hurts.  Starpower will also help get it in and if The Weinstein Company and Relativity Media are lucky, the once-in-a-lifetime appeal of Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, Fergie, Sophia Loren, Kate Hudson and Daniel Day-Lewis in a movie together should lead to pleasant financial returns, but this doesn’t rank among the highly respected musicals of the decade alongside “Chicago,” “Moulin Rouge” and “Dreamgirls.”

Adapting a musical based on a Fellini movie would be a difficult task for anyone, but Rob Marshall and screenwriters Michael Tolkin and the recently departed Anthony Minghella may have taken on too much here. Or, perhaps they have changed so much the core of the musical that won the top Tony Award isn’t really there anymore.  Awards Campaign will let the Broadway experts argue that, but in a movie context here is a clear breakdown of what works and what doesn’t in “Nine.”


Marion Cotillard
In only her second English-language role [Correction: her second major English speaking role since winning an Oscar for “Ma Vie En Rose”], Cotillard absolutely steals the movie as Guido’s long suffering wife Luisa.  Cotillard provides the most emotionally honest performance in the film and her two numbers including “My Husband Makes Movies/Long Ago” and the new song “Take it All” are heartbreaking.  The biggest positive from “Nine” is the realization that Cotillard is on her way to joining Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett as one of the top actresses of her generation.  You just can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.  There is some debate about whether Academy members will consider her lead or supporting, but it would be a crime if she didn’t land a nomination before her co-stars.

Penelope Cruz
The Spanish bombshell is having quite a year.  She won her first Oscar for “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” is the best thing in buddy Pedro Almodovar’s “Broken Embraces” and has the most well-rounded part as Guido’s mistress Carla in “Nine.”  The actress will have many mens tongue’s wagging after her sexually over-the-top number “A Call From the Vatican” (those publicity stills don’t do it justice). In “Nine” Cruz gets to be sultry, funny and dramatic with a supporting character that actually has somewhat of an arc (a rarity in the flick).  And it could just lead to another Oscar nod.

Kate Hudson
First off, it’s great to see Hudson in a movie that’s at least attempting to be something more than commercial dreck.  It’s been quite awhile since Hudson has made anything that lives up to her title as a former Oscar nominee for “Almost Famous.”  Moreover, Hudson’s new number, “Cinema Italiano,” is easily the most memorable and entertaining part of the film (pretty much why a new trailer was devoted entirely to it).  Yep, Hudson shows she can sing and boy can she dance.  Unfortunately, her role as an American fashion journalist and “Italiano” means almost nothing in the context of the movie.

Nicole Kidman
She’s barely in the movie and, yes, some will criticize that she hardly resembles the Italian cinema icon she’s supposed to play, but Kidman brings an energy and wit to her role as Guido’s muse Claudia the film sorely lacks most of the time.  And her one number, “Unusual Way,” is the most moving part of the film next to Cotillard’s fine moments.

The Production Design, Costumes and Cinematography
“Nine” looks beautiful.  From Colleen Atwoods spot on costumes to John Myhre’s period production design to cinematographer Dion Beebe’s evocative lighting (which covers up a lot of the directorial flaws), you can’t criticize the film’s overall look.  It’s one of those pictures you just want to jump into and explore (assuming you look good in slim-fitting Italian suits).

The Music

Like a good musical should, “Nine” sound great. The orchestrations and arrangements are all very, very nice. Moreover, unlike some recent movie musicals like “Mamma Mia” and “Sweeney Todd” which featured questionable vocals by Pierce Brosnan and Johnny Depp respectively, no one is going to be knocking the talents of this large and diverse cast.


Daniel Day-Lewis

He may be one of the world’s greatest actors, but Day-Lewis was completely miscast in the leading role of stressed-out filmmaker Guido Contini.  It’s not that he can’t sing, in fact the two-time Oscar winner’s vocal talents are fine. The issue is that he brings absolutely no charm to a part and therefore provides the audience with no excuse to have any sympathy for Guido.  Why are all these women throwing themselves at this moody jerk?  Where is the irresistible charisma behind this man?  Even in his desperation over getting his new movie made there is no joy, not even an occasional smile in his Guido.  Worse, you detest him by the end of the film.  That’s a big problem.

The Screenplay

All kudos to the fantastic Minghella (who I had the great pleasure of working with on the marketing campaign for “Talented Mr. Ripley”), but this screenplay is a mess.  As David Poland so accurately points out in his criticism of the film, almost none of these songs move the story along.  Uh guys, that’s the whole point of having the songs in the movie.  And when the catchiest new song appears in the film — “Cinema Italiano,” sung by Hudson — it does absolutely nothing for the storyline.  It’s so out of place you could cut it out and you’d never miss it.  Most disconcerting is Guido’s 180 degree turnaround which takes place over only two scenes at the end of the movie.  One “enlightening” conversation with Judi Dench’s Lilli character and Guido is a changed man.  So, the audience has put up with Guido’s hour and 40 minutes of self-destruction to watch him solve it all in less than 5 minutes? Egad.

The Direction

Director Rob Marshall captures a breezy Italian feel of the 1960s, but unlike the seamless integration in “Chicago,” having the musical numbers appear as imaginary performances on a sound stage severely halts the dramatic flow of the movie. This is the sort of film you want to hear the actors break into song during a dramatic moment. Yet, Marshall keeps it almost all on the stage.  Worse. besides Guido’s first number there is pretty much no three-dimensionality to any of the numbers.  They are all shot facing front as though they were on a theatrical stage, not a movie stage mind you.  And after awhile, well, it gets visually boring.  And lastly, what happened with Fergie?  Stacy Ferguson belts “Be Italian” out better than even her biggest fans would expect, but her musical number has almost no close ups and is a monotonous string of long shots with numerous dancers crowding the Black Eyed Peas member.  Not only is it bizarre in context, but if she was so bad as the whore Saraghina why not reshoot some of the number?  it’s just hard to fathom Fergie couldn’t pull off whatever Marshall was looking for.

Positive and negative’s aside, “Nine” isn’t going anywhere in the Oscar race.  As previously stated, it’s still a strong contender to make the final ten, but it’s nowhere near the pool of possible consensus winners which include “Up in the Air,” “Precious,” “Invictus” and “The Hurt Locker.”  The Weinsteins may even be able to steal a Best Picture Musical or Comedy statue from the Globes, but that won’t mean much besides a nice celebration that night and maybe some extra box office the following weekend. 

As for Marshall, he’s shown he can hire talented people to work a production, but after this and the misfire “Memoirs of A Geisha” is he really the man Disney wants taking over the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise?  Jerry Bruckheimer, Bob Iger and new Disney studio head Rich Ross may be contemplating that possibility as you’re reading this.

“Nine” opens in limited release on Dec. 18 and nationwide on Christmas Day.

For another opinion, read Drew McWeeney’s official HitFix review.

Are you looking forward to “Nine”?  Do you still think it can win Best Picture?  Share your thoughts below.

For constant updates on awards season and entertainment news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter at Twitter.com/HitFixGregory

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