NINE review

Featured Critic; St. Louis, MO
NINE review

For what wants to be a simple, breezy musical, the act of even explaining the origins of "Nine" can be exhausting.  But, I'll give it a shot...  Based on Federico Fellini's autobiographical cinema classic "8 ½", "Nine" made its debut as a Broadway musical in 1982, and much acclaim followed.  The film and the musical both center on the character of Guido, a celebrated Italian filmmaker who is contractually obligated to deliver what will be his ninth feature, and is creatively struggling to realize what it will be.  This is the situation in which Fellini found himself in during the gestation of what would be his beguiling meta-masterpiece, "8 ½".   If you're wondering how any of this lends itself to becoming a simple, breezy musical, take a bow.

Having recently re-watched "8 ½" as part of a self-imposed Fellini crash-course (which honestly just happens to coincide with the release of "Nine"), I can attest to its haunting mysteriousness and uncompromising male bravado.  Fellini puts everything out there, warts and all, and never apologizes.  It is one of the most personal jigsaw puzzle films ever made, and also one of the best films about the art of filmmaking.  Whoever decided that this material would make a good splashy musical ought to have their head examined.  Granted, I've never seen a live performance of "Nine", but I can safely say that the film version is not only one of the worst films of the year; it is one of the worst musicals ever made.


Before I proceed with the much-deserved blasting of "Nine", I should point out that the star studded cast is not to blame for this misfire.  The incomparable Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Guido, and although he acquits himself well enough with what little singing he does, he is given very little else to really sink his teeth into, outside of his character's depressed meandering.  Penelope Cruz, as Guido's current mistress, has a moment in the sun with her genuinely scorching, if inconsequential number.  The other famous Tom Cruise ex of the cast, Nicole Kidman, comes and goes through the story effectively enough, but poor Marion Cotillard - playing the part of Guido's put-upon wife - the chameleon actress is saddled with some of the worst lyrics in a show full of embarrassing lyrics (her song, "My Husband Makes Movies" is unintentionally hilarious in the worst way).  The only true eye-opener here is the singer Fergie as Saraghina, who benefits from having the only good and memorable song in "Nine", "Be Italian". 


This being transparent Weinstein Oscar-bait, Dame Judi Dench is present.  This time, she's in the role of Guido's resident costumer/analyst - a role with no bearing in the original Fellini material, yet necessitated here by the nature of bringing this story from the art house to the musical stage.  Despite the narrative shortcuts the role provides, Dench's presence still feels like deadweight in a film that's already bogged down.   But the true grande dame of "Nine" is clearly intended to be Sophia Loren, who has a few scenes as Guido's mother in flashbacks.   Judging by the nature of Loren's early reveal in the film - before we even know she's his mother, we're clearly supposed to swooning, "Ah, Sophia!" - the filmmaker's consider her very presence to be a casting coupe, and never regain their composure.


It is all indicative of one of the film's greater problems, the first of which is that "Nine" is in actuality not "8 ½: The Musical!", but merely a broader love-letter to the general cigarettes & suits cool vibe of Italy in the early 1960s, as communicated through the immensely popular films of Fellini, Antonioni, and others.  It dresses up as Fellini's "8 ½", shedding away all of the depth and resonance of that film in favor of a fashion show of set dressing, automobiles, and of course wardrobe.  Gone are Fellini's rocket ship, surreal dream sequences, and bullwhip harem.  In their place, we have a series of on-the-nose bombastic dance numbers, all rooted in Fellini's home studio of Cinecitta.  This whole Italian movie tribute aspect gives way to the most embarrassing number of them all:  Kate Hudson as an American fashionista singing the token new song for the film (gotta have that Oscar contender in the mix!), "Cinema Italiano".  She belts out "I love to see/from Guido's P.O.V./There's no one else with his unique director's vision!" while strutting an artificial fashion runway, flanked by male backup dancers adorned in black suits and sunglasses and cavorting on stripper poles.  No, no, no, no, no - This number, in all its shortsighted adoration, single-handedly displays the big problem with "Nine" - it claims to be in love with the postcard image Italy of the 1960s, but has completely missed the great depth and artistry that the post-neorealist films of Italy offer.


The glaring failure of "Nine" rests squarely on the shoulders of director Rob Marshall - all the most disappointing considering that he delivered the noteworthy "Chicago" in 2003.  I can't help but wonder how much of the failure of "Nine" lies in the fact that it is a gay man's take on some of the most heterosexual male source material in movie history.  Perhaps his response to the gleeful misogyny of the bullwhip-wielding harem sequence of "8 ½" is to replace it with more scenes where Guido, put upon by women, can only find refuge in them as well.  Less rocket ships and harems, more moping mother & wife scenes.  Or, maybe all those changes were already in place in on Broadway.  I don't know, I won't further pretend any further to be Judi Dench to Marshall's Guido.  All I know is that there is a fatal disconnect from the source material, making "Nine" a very confused and highly uneven work. 


 It is virtually impossible to separate "Nine" from "8 ½".  "Nine" is a derivative work that cannot stand on its own two feet, an essential quality for any adaptation to the screen.  This is because "Nine" is not only an adaptation, but also wants to be a tribute.  But fans of the Fellini film will reject this as a trite exercise of style over substance at best, an insulting misfire at worst.  On the flip side, the content of "Nine" will be completely lost on those not familiar with "8 ½" and other Italian films of the era.  Those people simply won't care about "Cinema Italiano", Guido's P.O.V. and "neorealism" (by the way, wrong era of Italian film, songwriters!).  The end result is an unenjoyable film that is for nobody.  Sorry Weinsteins, explain it any way you want, this movie is not worthy of any Oscars.


- Jim Tudor


  • Rob Marshall
  • Michael Tolkin (screenplay)
  • Anthony Minghella (screenplay)
  • Arthur Kopit (Broadway musical "Nine")
  • Maury Yeston (Broadway musical "Nine")
  • Mario Fratti (Broadway musical "Nine" Italian original)
  • Daniel Day-Lewis
  • Sandro Dori
  • Nicole Kidman
  • Marion Cotillard
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Rob MarshallMichael TolkinAnthony MinghellaArthur KopitMaury YestonMario FrattiDaniel Day-LewisSandro DoriNicole KidmanMarion CotillardDramaMusicalRomance

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