Rob Marshall directed two movies before NINE and I didn't like either of them. His movies are pretty on the surface and are obviously the product of much care and attention to detail. But somehow they miss the essential point of the story, not to mention any subtlety or subversion. And this is a major flaw in movies that deal with the the appearance and reality of sexual domination (MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA) and sexual and judicial corruption (CHICAGO).
And yet, still flush with the some-time success of CHICAGO, Marshall had the ambition to tackle NINE, a movie adaptation of a Broadway musical that was itself an adaptation of Fellini's seminal movie - perhaps one of the greatest movies of all time - 8 1/2. How can I explain to you what a technical, psychological and dramatic achievement Fellini's film was? It was a movie that dared to depict the impossibility and insanity of trying to create art in a commercial, celebrity-obsessed environment. Even more daring, it was a movie that threw its own director's psyche onto the screen - his narcissism, his eroticism, his conflicted relationship with his childhood, his relationship with his mother, his wife, his lovers....8 1/2 was a movie so radical and so brilliant that it redefined cinema. It was a movie so great that other directors tried to compete with it and came up short - Henri Georges Clouzot, with his INFERNO, had a heart attack trying.
If great artists have tried and failed to match Fellini, what can we say about Broadway composer and lyricist, Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston? Sadly not much. Yes, they have gotten the bare bones of the story - the narcissistic movie director battling writer's block and a kind of personal crisis - running between his wife and his lover - but never finding the pure adoration that only an Italian mother can give. But they fail to translate Fellini's daring and subversion to the Broadway stage. Worse still, the songs are rather anonymous. "Be Italian" has a decent melody but the rest are utterly forgettable. Worse still, the lyrics have none of the rapier-like wit of CHICAGO or CABARET. No, this is a poor vehicle indeed on which to hang a Hollywood film.
Rob Marshall takes poor fare and does nothing to improve it. Yes, there are a couple of new songs but none of them have any more punch than the originals. Indeed, the 60s pastiche Cinema Italiano, is truly bad. Worst of all, Marshall didn't have the balls to change the incredibly weak opening number. And, after all, what's a song and dance show without a bravura opening number? Catherine Zeta Jones in CHICAGO gripped the audience.
Okay, so the music is weak - hardly Marshall's fault. What about the purely cinematic choices? The casting is variable in its success. Daniel Day-Lewis is either miscast as the director, Guido Contini, or mis-directed by Marshall. Day-Lewis' attempt at an Italian accent distracts from his perfect physical embodiment of the distracted, harrassed, hunch-shouldered director. Penelope Cruz and Judi Dench have a lot of fun and perform with gusto as Guido's lover and loyal friend. Marion Cotillard is superb as Guido's suffering wife. Fergie of The Black Eyed Peas is the best singer and performer by far in the best song in the piece, despite Marshall saddling her with frightful hair and make-up and entirely missing the eroticism of the encounter with the kid. Less happily, we have Nicole Kidman doing nothing special as the Anita Ekberg inspired movie star Claudia. Sophia Loren survives on her iconic status. Kate Hudson is entirely out of her depth but luckily only has to do a MTV dance routine before she's off stage. Her part is entirely disposable.
Most importantly, Marshall doesn't attempt to translate the complexity at the heart of the piece. And without that, Guido comes across as merely annoying, unsympathetic and whiny - a big kid with a mamma complex and an over-extended libido. The women, with the exception of the wife, are not really developed. As a consequence, when one of them does something dramatic, it seems not so much out of character, as we don't know what her character really is, but out of the blue. It's just hard to care. The movie becomes a series of songs sung by women who are basically in love with a shit. And frankly, there's nothing entertaining about that.
NINE is on release in the US, UK and Slovenia. It opens next week in Greece and Canada. It opens in January in Israel, the Netherlands, South Korea, Cyprus, Denmark, Brazil, Italy, Australia, Spain, Taiwan and Romania. It opens in February in Argentina, Hungary, Sweden, France, Finland, Belgium, Germany and Singapore. It opens in March in Japan.