Time: 109 mins.
SYNOPSIS: Famous film director Guido Contini struggles to find harmony in his professional and personal lives, as he engages in dramatic relationships with his wife, his mistress, his muse, his agent, and his mother, as he attempts to write his latest film.
BOTTOM LINE: Normally I would be happy watching Daniel Day-Lewis read the phone book, but ever since MOULIN ROUGE I've come to expect a lot from movie musicals in the 21st century and NINE just didn't rock my world like I hoped it would. With this cast and Marshall behind the camera, this should have been a masterpiece, yet it left me cold and often bored. How could someone who brought a stage show like CHICAGO so brilliantly to life on the big screen, create such a stagey production this time around. Sure the sets are bigger and they shoot at some lovely locations, but for a film about the interior struggles of a film director trying to create his next movie it lacks much imagination when it comes to depicting his thoughts and ideas. The editing convention used so cleverly in CHICAGO – going from the real world into musical numbers and back again – doesn't quite work here. I guess because the women are all projections/puppets of Guido and his desires. They never quite come alive on their own, with the exception of Cotillard, who plays Guido's long-suffering wife. I know they're supposed to be his muses, yet there was just a giant disconnect between all the characters to me.
It can't have been easy to take a great film like Fellini's 8 1/2 from the screen to the stage and then back again. I think they capture much of the look and feel of the original film, making the Italy of that time in cinema come alive again. Day-Lewis is also intensely charming even when he's being downright despicable, which is not easy to pull off. Guido is just being true to himself, even if that means being an unthinking, selfish pig. He keeps you on his side because he's clearly not being mean on purpose, he just doesn't know any other way to live. As the most famous ladies in the cast, Kidman and Hudson have visually showy rolls, but while their numbers were intense and entertaining, their characters had all the depth and emotion of paper dolls. It was great to see Loren onscreen again, looking truly amazing and commanding your attention, but she isn't really given much to do and that's a true shame.
The show really belongs to Cotillard and Cruz, with Fergie actually giving the most entrancing and energetic performance, as a local whore who shows young Guido the sexual ropes so to speak. Her rendition of "Be Italian" was the most enjoyable and imaginative number in my opinion. Cruz gets points for her "A Call from the Vatican" number, which was super sexy, yet terribly silly all at the same time. She at least gets a real character to play, whether you like her portrayal of Guido's emotionally unstable mistress or not. Cotillard captured my heart, however, as a woman who gave up a promising career to devote her life to the man she loves and got nothing but lies and pain in return. When she sings "Take It All" you feel every ounce of her anger and frustration in loving a man who's unable to reciprocate her feelings or give her the respect she deserves as his wife.
The art direction and costume design are lovely and evocative, unfortunately the songs and lyrics just aren't catchy enough to be very memorable. I'm usually a sucker for musical soundtracks, but most of the film's tunes failed to stick in my head. If you like musicals, you'll enjoy this journey into Italian life and cinema, but it's just not innovative or exciting enough to convert newcomers to the genre, despite the cast's best efforts. Marshall gets points for trying to combine both Fellini's vision and the stage version on the big screen, it just doesn't come together seamlessly.