Published Dec 24, 2009When Rob Marshall directed the Oscar-winning Chicago in a time when musicals hadn't fully recaptured their audience, he made a precise choice to portray each musical number as if it were occurring in the mind of Roxie Hart. The first images we see in that film are of her eyes as we move closer and closer inside them. Now, Marshall is at the helm of Nine, another re-imagined stage musical, and the formula still works. The first words we hear are from Guido Contini (Daniel Day Lewis) inform us that "all films are a dream." Because in real life, no one suddenly breaks into song during a dramatic moment, except in our imaginations.
Based on the stage musical of the same name, Nine was originally inspired by the life of famed Italian director Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita) and his autobiography, 8 1/2. Here, his doppelganger, Contini, struggles to complete a film script for his studio in 11 days, when it's set to begin filming, yet he hasn't written a single word.
He attempts to escape the pressures of Rome for the peace and inspiration of Positano, but a new pressure awaits him there when all of the women in his life (and there are many) demand answers. There's his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose), his mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz), his Silvia-esque muse (Nicole Kidman), an aggressive American journalist (Kate Hudson) and a frank but loveable costumer (Dame Judi Dench).
Penned by the late, great Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) and dedicated to his memory, Nine evokes a very strong sentiment and aesthetic of the swinging, stylish, sexy '60s in Europe. While the plot is somewhat forced and not the cleverest of ideas, the passion of this film is contained in the musical numbers. In them, we are dazzled by spectacle at its best: ornate costumes, raucous choreography, booming orchestral crescendos, catchy lyrics and hooks, sumptuous set colours and designs, and lest we forget, many flashes of flesh.
Perhaps the best performace is of "Be Italian" by Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson of the Black Eyed Peas (looking not so "Glamorous" here) as Sara-Gina, a prostitute from Contini's youth, who performs a sultry striptease in the sand. Kate Hudson surprises with her vocal proclivities in "Cinema Italiano," and Judi Dench's "Les Follies Bergere" testifies with its dazzling, jewelled eye-candy, proving even seasoned ladies ooze sex appeal.
A cameo by Sophia Loren, and the subtle stiff-upper-lip performance of Cotillard's Luisa as a woman sacrificing happiness for her man, prove that Nine's women are the real stars. It's Daniel Day Lewis who is the surprising letdown here, inexplicably prancing through each scene unaware that he's behaving like a selfish, chauvinistic twat. When his career and life turn pear-shaped, it's hard to feel sympathy for such a self-absorbed character.
With so many Oscar winners in front of, and behind, the camera (I've counted eight!), Nine is sure to cause some stir come nomination time, but will undoubtedly sell more soundtrack copies than movie tickets. (Alliance)