27 February 2010 | moviemanMA
Chicago style doesn't work for Italian style
I was surprised when Rob Marshall's Chicago took home the Oscar for Best Picture. A great movie but not my choice for best of 2002 (that I would award to Gangs of New York). All that aside, Marshall hasn't done much since. Only one movie, Memoirs of a Geisha, which I for some reason have neglected to see (I try to watch films that win for best cinematography). That's all beside the point. In his third film, Marshall goes back to his theatre roots and tackles another musical.
This time he has chosen Nine, a re-imagining of Federico Fellini's classic film 8 1/2. Already I am skeptical of the situation. I am fine with musicals. Some of the best films on celluloid have been musicals. What I have a problem with is the reworking of such a classic film like 8 1/2. It would take a lot of convincing to win me over. Unfortunately, it did not succeed.
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Guido Contini, an Italian director who is planning on making the most important Italian film ever call Italia. The only problem is he hasn't written a script yet. To guide him he turns to the women in his life. His late mother (Sofia Loren), his wife Marion Cotillard, his mistress (Penelope Cruz), his costume designer and closest friend (Judi Dench), a fashion reporter (Kate Hudson), a childhood temptress Saraghina (Stacey "Fergie" Ferguson) and his leading lady (Nicole Kidman).
Contini tries to escape the pressure looming overhead by the media, his producers, and his cast and crew. He is constantly searching for the answer, bouncing around from one person to another. That's really all there is. He talks to people, sleeps around, and goes into his past.
Right off the bat there is a slight problem. There are too many women! Not just for Contini but for the audience. There are too many big name actresses with almost equal parts. Who is more important? Who should we side with? It seems like he has such a close relationship with some of them and hardly any with others, yet they all practically get the same amount of screen time. They all have at least one song to their own.
That is another problem with the film. The musical aspect is distracting from the story. The music for the most part is average. A few songs like "Be Italian" and the Oscar nominated "Take it All" are very good, but for the most part, it's all bells and whistles. Like he did with Chicago, Marshall takes us from the real world of dialogue to the imaginary world of singing and dancing. My issue with this is that he spends an almost equal amount of time in both places. With Chicago, there was more story divulged in the real world. Nine has too much singing and not enough story telling.
The musical numbers are impressive, in particular the two songs I mentioned. Fergie really flexes the golden pipes with "Be Italian," a fun and sexy number that for me was the highlight of the film. Cotillard's number was also one of the better ones. This was a more emotional struggle and was one of the few numbers I felt really connected with the story. Kidman and Cruz each have decent numbers, and Dench's number is a bit over the top. She is better with the real world scenes.
I guess Marshall tried to replicate what he did with Chicago but came up short. I never was invested with any of the characters and Lewis' performance was not quite what I was looking for. I would have loved to have seen Raul Julia, the original Guido Contini from the first Broadway production, or even Antonio Banderas in the revival. I think someone with a more musical background would have been a more acceptable choice, but nevertheless, Lewis does a fairly decent job.