Nine – Review

Rob Marshall chooses style over substance

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Director: Rob Marshall
Notable Cast:
Daniel Day-Lewis, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren, Fergie, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench

Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a famous director who is in a bit of career slump. After making a number of hits, he’s had a string of flops and is looking to redeem himself. But he has a bit of problem: writer’s block. Extremely close to shooting, there is no script and Guido has no idea what he’s going to do. On top of this he has to deal with his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penelope Cruz), his mother (Sophia Loren) and his muse (Nicole Kidman), all with their own individual problems.

Nine, the year’s big song and dance film, is proof that Rob Marshall has the ability to harness the musical in a way that hasn’t been seen since the genre’s heyday. Marshall, no stranger to the musical itself with an armful of Tony nominations to go with a Best Director nomination for Chicago, is able to take the source material and give it a life that mimics the sort of experience one gets from a play. There’s an organic chemistry to it that gives it more life, as opposed to the artificial nature of Mamma Mia! and the ilk.

A musical version of Fellini’s 8 ½, Nine is Marshall’s latest cinematic musical and every bit the equal of Chicago but with a significantly more impressive cast. But with such a loaded cast of women, it’s the film’s prominent male that steals the show.

Daniel Day-Lewis, with two Oscars already, has his pick of roles available to him so it’s interesting to see him singing and dancing throughout the film. And he’s not as awful as Johnny Depp was in Sweeney Todd, as Lewis holds his own. He does a great job, carrying a tune admirably. In the handful of actors one could call the best of their generation Lewis does something remarkable; he adds a different dimension to his repertoire. He shines in the dramatic moments, giving the film a heft it doesn’t have, and continues through with the singing scenes.

The problem begins with the female cast in the film. Or, rather, the fact that there’s so many high profile actresses in it that the film is padded to give everyone enough time to justify their billing (and salary, perhaps). A number of musical pieces not present in the original musical have been added, most notably the one involving Kate Hudson (who displays some powerful singing pipes), but what should be a sleek musical feels bloated because there are so many names in it. Marion Cotillard, given the most screen time, shines as her chemistry with Lewis is palpable.

There’s a greater story to be told about commercialism and the nature of the artist, the main theme behind 8 ½, that the musical attempts to tackle but doesn’t fully accomplish. In an attempt to be more musically inclined and focus on the story of a man caught between many women, Marshall loses focus in a way he didn’t on Chicago. With all of the big numbers and set pieces, Marshall’s ability to deliver a spectacular musical number is still unchallenged but his ability to tell a story around is underwhelming. There’s a larger theme about art and success, whether or not having a hit film is more important then having a good one, that are largely ignored because of its need to be a musical as opposed to a film with big musical numbers in it.

It’s a shame because in doing so Marshall makes this a film about the women in Guido’s life. This is Guido’s story and Marshall neglects it because he has so many big time stars to use in their own musical numbers. Nine gets bogged down by them, taking prime material and leaving it with its potential unfulfilled.


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