Remember watching some of those modern “Robert Altman” movies where you felt like you were in on the joke? No, I’m not talking about the superb “Gosford Park” or even “The Player.” I’m referencing fare like “Cookie’s Fortune” and “A Prairie Home Companion.” You know, those movies where Altman gathered up about every fantastic star alive and put them in a room and it was a pleasure to be invited along to see what happened? The issue with those movies is that it didn’t matter how many A-listers you put on the poster, you still couldn’t make the material something it wasn’t. Sure, those films were easy to swallow and even fun on a rainy day, but there wasn’t much content or substance.
Rob Marshall, the Academy Award-nominated (should have won) director of “Chicago” has brought us such a film. It’s almost sad for me to write this review. It’s not because I didn’t enjoy “Nine,” but because the promise of the trailer brought us so much more. The cast includes a collective eight Oscar wins and more than a dozen nominations. With the exception of Fergie, you can’t swing a bat without finding a nomination. That extends beyond the cast to every single craft involved. To that end, the craft on this film is outstanding. I am sure that come Oscar night, the costumes, cinematography, art direction, and even editing will surely be recognized. However, regardless of all that talent, “Nine” isn’t the experience that the trailer alluded to.
None of this is to say anything bad about the direction, the production, or least alone…the talent. The cast is outstanding with what they have been given. “Nine” tells the story of a famous Italian director who has a serious case of writer’s block and turns to all of the women in his life for inspiration. Daniel Day Lewis handles the lead role with grace (and has never looked better…I LOVE YOU). The entire supporting cast is very good. Penelope Cruz probably has the best (shaky) chance at an Oscar nomination. Given that she won last year, I think that is shaky. Cruz, stars as Lewis’ mistress and has the film’s signature song, “A Call from the Vatican,” a performance that won “30 Rock” star Jane Krakowski a Tony Award a few years back for the revival on Broadway.
Marion Cotillard is also excellent as Lewis’ distraught wife. Why the people behind “Nine” are pushing her as a lead performance is almost laughable. The only thing that separates her from the rest of the cast is that she has two songs instead of one. I guess that is the distinction? Who knows?
The other fantastic performances come from the senior cast members. Judi Dench seems to be having a ball as Lewis’ confidant, and Sophia Loren is a welcome addition back to the screen in the role of the mother. She forces you to remember just how amazing she is. Has there ever been a woman as beautiful as Loren?
Nicole Kidman (and her ever plump top lip), Kate Hudson, and singing star Fergie round out the talented cast. Beyond that, the film itself is gorgeous in sight and sound. However, the issue with “Nine” is two-fold and has absolutely nothing to do with the production. First, there isn’t one memorable or singable song in the whole film. The style of music within doesn’t even lend itself to a chorus or hook. That is a big problem in a fast-paced film with only 11 songs. Second, with only one (or two) songs per character…and NO interaction between any of the women, there’s very little character development. It almost reads like a talent show. Once a character has performed her big number, there’s no interaction for the rest of the film. Not with Lewis, each other, or the audience. The story line is very weak and thin. Those expecting the big grand courtroom scenes of “Chicago” or heart-rendering breakdown scenes of “Dreamgirls” better look elsewhere. If you had any sort of emotional reaction to “Nine” it would be hurried out of you by the fast pace.
In truth…it would be very had to have any connection to the film or the characters because there isn’t any development in the material itself. You sort of get the feeling that Rob Marshall and the entire cast did what they could to make a gorgeous film out of very hollow material. Sure, I could stare at Daniel Day Lewis all day but a gorgeous actor (and cast) can’t make a good movie, well, great.
It’s a pity because when I heard they were making “Nine” I had forced my doubts about the storyline to the back of my head and prayed that Marhsall could make it something great. However, in the end…it’s still that hollow musical that came out in the early eighties. It’s fun, it’s enjoyable and it’s beautiful. But at best, it’s more like a 6 or 6 and a half.
Release Date: Dec. 25, 2009
Running Time: 110 mins.
Country Of Origin: United States
Starring: Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Daniel Day-Lewis, Kate Hudson, Ricky Tognazzi, Giuseppe Cederna, Valerio Mastandrea
Director: Rob Marshall
Synopsis: Loosely inspired by the Fellini film “8½,” story focuses on a film director stuck in neutral as he tries to make a movie while haunted by the demands of all the women in his life, including a wife, mistress and even his deceased mother. (From film.com)
Wayne Bell is a guest contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He moved to Fayetteville in 2003 for his Masters Degree and you can almost always catch him at Little Bread Co. or Hammontree’s. For more of Wayne’s contributions, visit his author page.