One Hot Number

29 Dec

He’s an Italian treasure. The “essence of Italian style … the king of Cinema Italiano.” But in the movie Nine (an adaptation of the Broadway musical, which was adapted from Federico Fellini’s film ), writer/director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is grappling with a midlife crisis that has given him an epic case of writer’s block. Add to this the pressure he is receiving from all sides: his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penélope Cruz), his muse (Nicole Kidman), journalists (including one played by Kate Hudson), his confidant and costume designer (Judi Dench), producers, and more. Suffice it to say, it’ll take a miracle for Guido to make another film, and until then, he’ll keep dangling along the various women, investors, and members of his creative team until he finally gets another idea.

Nine is, like the man at the center, not perfect. But man, did I ever enjoy it. The film is big, splashy, elegant, sexy, bold, tuneful, and really fun, and it’s an incredible advertisement for visiting Italy. Nearly every performer gets his or her own chance to shine, even if one or two of the songs do let them down (Dench’s “Folies Bergère, for example). Day-Lewis is great, though his singing and speaking voice sometimes made me think of the Count, from Sesame Street. And I was really impressed by Cotillard’s singing voice, particularly in the song “My Husband Makes Movies.” Heck, even Kate Hudson is good, and that’s saying something.

Like in his big-screen version of Chicago, director Rob Marshall stages the musical numbers as if they’re the thoughts in one of his character’s head (in this case, Guido). While I liked that device more here than I did in Chicago, I think that in his next movie, Marshall is going to have to find a new gimmick. At one point, Guido sings, “I am lusting for more. Should I settle for less? I ask you, what’s a good thing for if not for taking it to excess?” That applies to Marshall’s filmmaking, specifically his less than subtle staging of some of the numbers, a few of which are so overtly sexual that he almost robs them of their sexuality (no pun intended). Which is, partly, why Cotillard’s performance stands out. She’s so graceful, so underplaying her role, that she’s really able to shine.

I have some issues with Nine, but I still found myself smiling throughout, and I was happy to be singing the music in my head when it was over (maybe because “Be Italian” is a total earworm song). I’m not giving the movie a 9 rating, but I figure a B+ is close enough.

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