I didn’t really know what to expect, walking into Nine. Well, I kind of knew what to expect from director Rob Marshall (Chicago), and I knew Nine was sexy and kind of based on someone’s mental state, so I probably expected a little Chicago magic again. For those confused by my review of 9, here I am speaking of the live-action musical and not the animated post-apocalyptic thing. Maybe the lead character’s state of mind is a little post-apolcalyptic, but I digress. Nine is set in Italy in 1965, that groovy frontier between girl group femininity and crazed hippie abandon.
Daniel Day-Lewis plays Guido Contini, a famous film director and walking id. Day-Lewis plays Guido with a cultured Italian accent, a good singing voice, and plenty of angst. He has made himself quite a career playing tortured men, and his customary level of actorly dedication therefore requires him to pretty much have a full-on nervous breakdown on screen. While this is not often the stuff of musical comedy, Nine isn’t either. Guido is difficult to like, which seems more like a failing of the original musical than of this production of it. Nine is not as good a show as Chicago and the filmgoing experience reflects it, but it definitely wrings all the best out of it that it can — and in gorgeous coastal Italy smothered in beautiful women.
Guido’s muses alternatively fuel him, torment him, love him, inspire him, arouse him, and nurture him, and in his mind, all exist only as fully as their usefulness to him extends. The women who surround Day-Lewis all turn in great performances, with some that took me by surprise. Who thought Kate Hudson could rock her Laugh-In genes on the only original song of the film? She doesn’t dance much (neither does anyone except Fergie) but she sells it. Marion Cotillard we already know can act and sing and she’s breathtaking here. Penelope Cruz, whom I usually really dislike, was awesome — though I hope her father never sees this film. Gentlemen, wear loose pants. Nicole Kidman doesn’t surprise us with what she does so much as remind us that she can still play a sexpot screen siren at 42 like nobody’s business. Fergie/Stacy Ferguson gets the big jaw-dropper number as far as I am concerned and tears up the screen even with a zillion backup girls in a long-ago but salient part of Guido’s psyche. Hers is the song you will be humming as you leave the theatre. And of course Judi Dench. As always, Dame Judi takes a little screen time and runs with it — her number is wonderful.
Marshall has always been marvelous at painting with bodies and light, and this film benefits from that touch immensely because of the abstraction of most of the songs. He uses static lighting like a stage production and as a result gets tons of gorgeous depth on screen. I would like to see this film in full Avatar 3-D to float in the spaces of light and dark and layers of people Marshall builds. Costumer Atwood proves she’s a force to be reckoned with but even her mastery cannot give Nicole Kidman boobs. Nine is about religion and morality and love and intimacy and inspiration and objectification and intimacy and superficiality and it’s a solidly-made film. It may not make you a fan of the show, but it should make you a fan of Rob Marshall.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/25/09
Time in minutes 118
Director Rob Marshall
Studio Weinstein Company