Monday, January 4, 2010

Movie Review: Nine

Rated: PG-13

Website: Official Nine site

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Stacy Ferguson, Sophia Loren

My Review: Oh, Nine. I was so prepared to love you. You have so many things that make for my own personal movie nirvana: you’re a musical, you star Daniel Day-Lewis, you’re directed by Rob Marshall. But where did it all go so wrong? Because you are one of the biggest disappointments I’ve seen in a long time.

The story revolves around beloved Italian movie director Guido Contini, played by Day-Lewis. Contini is preparing to make his ninth feature film, and needs to recapture the glory of his earlier films, as his last few were, in his own words, “flops.” But his creative well has run dry and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t get a script put together. And hindering his process in every way possible are the multitude of women in his life; his faithful, but rightfully distrustful wife (Cotillard), his unstable mistress (Cruz), his deceased mother (Loren), his leading lady and muse (Kidman), his adoring fan (Hudson), his costume maker and confidant (Dench), and a whore who exists in a childhood memory (Ferguson).

The main misstep in Nine is that it’s a story primarily about writer’s block, which is nearly impossible to make a compelling regular movie about, let alone a musical. Writer’s block is infuriating and torturous to experience, and seeing it portrayed on film doesn’t feel that different. Its second misstep is focusing on a character that’s neither sympathetic nor likable. Contini has known great success and lives a life others can merely dream of, yet all he can focus on what he has yet to achieve. He has a beautiful wife who loves him, despite knowing he is unfaithful to her, and he continues to lie that his affairs are over, while still carrying on with a long-standing girlfriend. Presumably, we’re meant to feel bad that this artist is struggling so much with his next masterpiece, but all I could think was how he doesn’t even deserve the successes he already has under his belt.

Before seeing the movie, I was only vaguely familiar with the music of Nine. After seeing the movie, I understood why; the music is nothing remarkable (with the possible exception being the “Be Italian” number the marketing team was wise enough to use in all the promos). Contini and each of his women is given a number to perform (his wife gets two), but they’re as thinly created and forgettable as the characters performing them. Kate Hudson’s role was created specifically for the movie, so her newly-written song sounds like exactly what it is: A weak and sloppily constructed pop tune meant to breathe some life into the plodding story.

Most of the actors do the best they can with their roles, but the characters are so thinly constructed, it would be impossible to appreciate them even if they were putting forth their best performances. Contini is the most fleshed-out character, but he’s so unlikable that even Day-Lewis can’t save him. The best parts of the entire movie occur on the few occasions when Judi Dench’s character appears to slap some sense into Contini with her biting remarks. Every weak movie should have a sassy British actress over 50 in it as a saving grace.

Bottom Line: Since the Rob Marshall-directed Chicago was such a fantastic movie musical, I probably shot myself in the foot by assuming Nine would be more of the same. But I can’t really blame everything on Marshall since I think the source material is mostly at fault. I would still love to see another musical put to film by Marshall, but I just hope he picks a better one next time. In case he doesn’t know it, Universal has owned the rights to Wicked for years now…I’m just saying…

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