Genre: Musical Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.
Release Date: December 25th, 2009 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Rob Marshall Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Stacie ‘Fergie’ Ferguson, Judi Dench
brilliant meditation on the obsession, sacrifice, and magic of filmmaking, as well as a clever musical addition to Fellini’s “8 ½,” “Nine” brings the acclaimed Broadway show to the big screen with vibrant grandeur and an impressive cast. Perhaps a bit existentialistic and scattered with surreal touches as the narrative drifts in and out of reality, past, and present, and black & white and color, the adventurous viewer will undoubtedly find a wealth of elaborate set pieces, provocative dance numbers, engaging performances, and… Judi Dench. It seems a pity to compare “Nine” to director Rob Marshall’s previous musical, but with so few of the genre emerging on the big screen, it is indeed a little like “Chicago” – except that it’s good.
Arrogant, self-centered movie director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) finds himself struggling to find meaning, purpose, and a script for his latest film endeavor. With only a week left before shooting begins, he desperately searches for answers and inspiration from his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penelope Cruz), his muse (Nicole Kidman), and his mother (Sophia Loren). As his chaotic profession steadily destroys his personal life, Guido must find a balance between creating art and succumbing to its obsessive demands.
Guido is a world class liar and a maestro of film, badly in need of moral training for his imagination (expertly demonstrated when he imagines a leggy prostitute wrapped around the Pope, from whom he asks for guidance), which is deteriorating under the strains of making a movie. Or even just writing the first words to a screenplay, despite many beautiful, singing, dancing inspirations. It’s a film about a film within a film, expertly acted, performed, costumed, and edited, with wonderfully varying styles of song and dance.
Overall, it’s a grand show with thundering music during quiet moments and self reflection during stressful times. What works best is the introductions to the musical sequences, each one segueing from daydreams, visions, and hallucinations. It’s a less distracting way to force these unreal, glamorous asides on audiences who strain to find enjoyment in musicals. “Why not dream up something entertaining?” recommends Dench’s Lilli.
The only downfall to showcasing multiple flashy song and dance numbers with a diverse cast is that certain performers easily stand out as being superior in their craft. Cotillard and Fergie present the most pleasing voices and Day-Lewis submits the most engaging performance – and all three dwarf the merely adequate turns by Kidman, Cruz, and Dench. Kate Hudson seems the only truly odd choice, though she does well enough with her upbeat number (which plays again during the end credits). Fellini would be proud.
– Joel Massie