This is an ever-evolving story of a girl writer and her two greatest loves, the movies and travel. As she hikes the trenches of Hollywood, you're brought along for the ride.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Nine Divided by Nine = One Movie That Could've Been Much More

2009 was the year of the Nine: As the decade came to a close, Hollywood capitalized on Lucky number '9' by bringing us District 9,( a sci-fi action film),9 (a post-apocalyptic animated film), and as if that weren't enough: Nine ( a movie based on a musical based on a film by Fellini.)

By all accounts, Nine, has suffered much from critics-- even considering its award recognition, including 5 Golden Globe Noms. LA Weekly was harsh. The Hollywood Reporter felt that much of the talent brought together for the film was all-and-out squandered. Rotten Tomatoes users and reviewers have ranked it a dismal 37% thus far.

It didn't have to be this way. Directed by Rob Marshall, who successfully brought Chicago to the screen, Nine boasted a regal cast of talent: Daniel Day-Lewis (Guido Contini), Penelope Cruz (Carla), Marion Cotillard (Luisa Contini), Sophia Loren (Mamma), Dame Judi Dench (Lilli), Kate Hudson (Stephanie), Nicole Kidman (Claudia), and Fergie (Saraghina.) It was the big-screen adaptation of a Tony Award-winning musical, itself based on a classic film by Federico Fellini. It could've been a dazzling, sexy, stylish, and visually stunning music-o-rama, but that film, it turned out, only existed in the 3-minute version of the film (otherwise known as its trailer.)

I read the reviews, heard the word-of-mouth, but was nonetheless intrigued to check it out for myself the other day. Two hours later, I'd drawn my own conclusion-- I agreed with the critics. In my opinion, "Nine" ultimately falls flat.

My opinion came with a certain amount of sadness because I really wanted to like the film. Not that there aren't entertaining moments (because they are), but the film never quite seems to gelatinize into anything meaningful or memorable. Yes, Nine has an ensemble of some of our greatest actors, wonderfully executed shots here and there, and glimmers of seducing Italiano razzle-dazzle, but it's just not enough.

The film meanders through Guido's life directionless (reminiscent of 8 1/2), but unlike that film, we as an audience, never get into Guido's head. We never really know him nor do we get a sense that he knows much of anything about himself. We do learn about the torturous pressure his success has brought him and the seductive lure of all the women in his life-- beautiful women who seem to flitter into his seemingly enchanted life like snowflakes. Each of them, uniquely yet similarly touch his skin, but remain ice-cold in one way or another. There is a disconnect to these relationships. Women who could be sexy and strong, sensitive and assertive, are instead only objectified by Guido (and by transference Marshall's lens.)

The editing merges the past and present with color and black and white-- as if a dream. The film opens with promise, as Guido escapes and seeks reassurance from his unfletchingly confident Lilli (played by the always superb Judi Dench.) Then, things start to go amiss. The musical numbers are entertaining at times, but nothing sticks-- not in the way that songs in musicals are supposed to stick. Musicals are supposed to have scores, musical numbers that define them. Day-Lewis, Kidman, Cruz, Cotillard, Hudson, Dench, Loren, and Fergie all have what equates to a "commercial break" worth of musical material. Kidman, as film star Claudia Jenssen, gets a little more than a turn at a screen test while reminding Guido that she has yet to see a script. Penelope Cruz plays the eye candy on the verge of suicide--allowing her to model a fantastic selection of lingerie, as well as shed a tear of two. Fergie and Hudson gets the lion's share of what turns out to be the film's only memorable songs, "Cinema Italiano" and "Be Italian," respectively, but even those songs are played out ad nauseum. The song selections could've been stronger, the choreography more showy and innovative. For a Hollywood movie musical, Nine merely goes through the motions.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the film had nothing to do with the costuming or the sets or the musical numbers. It had to do with Guido's relationship with his art and its conflict with his relationship with his wife. In this, Marion Cotillard holds her own. She's not particularly showy and she doesn't get an irritatingly memorable song to sing. Yet to me, she shines above them all. Cotillard plays Luisa with heartfelt emotion.

She stood alone onstage singing "My Husband Makes Movies" and I was captivated. She channeled real emotion; she sung with passion. I could feel her pain, her love for Guido and yet her resentment toward him, specifically the art that occupies his time and focus and the women that fill out his fantasies-- complete with corsets and fishnets. And then Cotillard's moment is over and one can only hope that Guido learns that Luisa is just the direction and stability that he needs to accomplish his art. For me, it is in this that Nine redeems itself. In the final shot, as Guido and the younger version of himself rise above the stage on a camera crane, and Guido yells "Action," I only wish that the rest of the film could've taken some and fulfilled its own potential.

Luisa Contini: Thank you.
Guido Contini: What for?
Luisa Contini: Thank you for reminding me I'm not special. You don't even see what you do to me. Even the moments I think are ours, it's just... you working to get what you want.

(From Nine --Directed by Rob Marshall, Screenplay by Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella.)

Review by Kendra Liedle
Copyright 2010 by KLiedle

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