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All That Jizz

MOVIE REVIEW
Nine (2009)

N-00693
David James/The Weinstein Company

“Nine,” Rob Marshall’s adaptation of the Broadway musical version of Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2,” unfolds in a strange netherworld located somewhere between its two prior forms. It takes stabs at evoking the dreamlike psychological reverie of Fellini’s masterpiece but stops dead for clunky, poorly-integrated musical numbers. The dialogue alludes to the transformative power of cinema while the picture remains aesthetically earthbound, frozen by pedestrian prettified visual compositions and blatantly artificial stagecraft that hasn’t transitioned well.

Daniel Day-Lewis broods as Guido — the legendary film director first inhabited by Marcello Mastroianni — stuck with a nasty case of writer’s block and besieged by multiple competing interests as he scrambles to find the right material for an upcoming epic. To trigger his creative impulses, he tries an escape to a seaside resort. But the arrival of his mistress Carla (Penélope Cruz), followed soon thereafter by his producer, the rest of his crew and, eventually, his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), makes such a holiday an impossibility.

Whereas Fellini probed the artist’s subconscious, linking the Catholic guilt rooted deeply in his past to his present failings, Mr. Marshall devotes his resources to piling on the chic period pizzazz. Kate Hudson leads the spunky “Cinema Italiano” number, which flashes between black and white and washed out color as she’s surrounded by dancers and models lifted straight from a retro fashion catalog. In a scene likely to set hearts aflutter, Carla moans and gyrates in lingerie on her bed, cooing naughty things to Guido. Men clad in dapper suits and horn-rimmed glasses interact with women in ravishing party dresses, sleek convertibles careen down the streets of Rome and around scenic cliffs and a low-angle frames Guido against the low-lit mass of half-built sets and other elaborate movie equipment of Cinecittà before it comes to life.

It looks great, but the magic is missing, sacrificed to Mr. Marshall’s steadfast allegiance to surface style and his inability to find the narrower, specific focus the material demands. By junking up the movie with so many visual and aural feasts, transitioning from one meticulously composed image to the next, he robs the picture of the naturalism it requires, the sense that we’re watching a real director experiencing real problems, not an actor playing dress-up. The picture needs to be messier; neither Mr. Marshall nor Mr. Day-Lewis, who mostly sticks to one note: befuddled, successfully conjure a deeply-felt sense of Guido’s genius, his insecurities or the panic that’s set in.

The musical numbers keep “Nine” ensconced in that artificial plane. They play detached from the narrative, in dully glamorized single locations with lyrics such as “I feel my body chill/gives me that special thrill/every time I see that Guido Neo-realism” and uninspired group choreography. No attempt has been made to open things up, to make use of cinema’s unique ability to fuse the real with the fantastic. Quickly, the pattern of the screenplay (credited to Michael Tolkin and the late, great Anthony Minghella) becomes clear and listlessness sets in: Guido will look haggard, problems amass at a hurried rate and the picture’s many famous women will emerge for a grand showstopper before receding into the background. Only towards the conclusion does “Nine” attempt to consider the prospect that Guido’s life might not be as grand as it seems, and by then Mr. Marshall has already worn us down.

NINE

Opens on Dec. 18 in New York, Los Angeles and Britain.

Directed by Rob Marshall; written by Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella, based on the book for the musical “Nine” by Arthur Kopit, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, adapted from the Federico Fellini film “8 ½”; director of photography, Dion Beebe; choreography by Mr. Marshall and John DeLuca; production designer, John Myhre; produced by Mr. Marshall, Mr. DeLuca, Marc Platt and Harvey Weinstein; released by the Weinstein Company. Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Daniel Day-Lewis (Guido Contini), Marion Cotillard (Luisa), Penélope Cruz (Carla), Judi Dench (Lilli), Stacy Ferguson (Saraghina), Kate Hudson (Stephanie), Nicole Kidman (Claudia) and Sophia Loren (Mamma).

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