About thirty minutes into Rob Marshall’s musical Nine, I kept getting a nagging sense of déjà vu. It finally dawned on me that the movie reminded me a lot of All That Jazz, the 1979 musical directed by Bob Fosse. That movie starred the late Roy Scheider, who portrayed a brilliant choreographer experiencing an existential crisis in the days leading up to a big Broadway production. He copes with his pathos by popping pills and chasing women, and his self destructive ways ultimately cost him the love and respect of his daughter and those closest to him.
In Nine, Daniel Day Lewis plays a brilliant Italian director who experiences an existential crisis in the days leading up to the first day of filming for his new movie. He is a scoundrel, and has so many entanglements with various women that it ultimately threatens his health, marriage and relationships, not to mention the movie.
As soon as I got home, I started researching and found out that All That Jazz and Nine were both based on Federico Fellini’s 1963 film 8 1/2, which is widely considered a masterpiece in most film circles. While All That Jazz was Bob Fosse’s re-imagining of 8 1/2 with autobiographical components liberally interwoven, Nine is a more faithful adaptation of the story.
Guido (Daniel Day Lewis) is a famous Italian director who has scads of set designers, costumers, and various other film types working on erecting a massive film set in a studio warehouse. Trouble is, unbeknownst to everyone, Guido has not written one word of the script, and the movie is to begin filming in mere days. As the pressure mounts and the threat of being exposed increases, Guido starts experiencing psychosomatic symptoms. He experiences shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and panic attacks. Not helping matters any is fact that he has to deal with a temperamental and demanding mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz).
Judi Dench plays Guido’s wise confidante and longtime friend Lilli, a wardrobe specialist. Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose) plays Luisa, his put-upon wife who is very aware of Guido’s indiscretions, but looks the other way, and Nicole Kidman plays Claudia, the actress who is Guido’s frequent collaborator and muse.
Kate Hudson steals what little screen time she is allotted as an American fashion reporter from Vogue, and the legendary Sophia Loren appears in Guido’s visions as his mother. Finally, Fergie (of The Black Eyed Peas) is a whore who left a lasting impression on the young Guido.
As the tormented Guido tries to become inspired to write a script, he draws on the memories he has with each of these women. This results in each actress getting to strut her stuff during a solo musical sequence (which are Guido’s fantasies and/or memories.) I’ll quickly admit I was a little star struck by all the beauty and talent on the screen. It was truly humbling to see all these women on stage, and it packed more than a little “wow” factor for me.
The film is visually beautiful, and although most the women writhe around in lingerie and garter belts, it is tasteful as well as sensual, it never felt tawdry. The movie is admittedly scant of story, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching the musical numbers unfold, and was quite entertained. I’ve heard lots of criticisms that the movie didn’t have any songs as catchy as Marshall’s previous effort Chicago, but I beg to differ.
I thought “Cinema Italiano” (the Kate Hudson song) was infectious and fun, and Fergie’s “Be Italian” is still in my head weeks later. Marion Cotillard gives the best performance of the movie and her rendition of “My Husband Makes Movies”, well, it is amazing. Cotillard is stunning and so convincing as a heartbroken dutiful wife who is tired of all her husband’s bullshit.
Daniel Day Lewis is good, but not great. He seems and a little too strung out and too old to have all these women fawning all over him. He has a pretty despicable character to work with, and I don’t know that anyone else would have fared better. I will admit that Chicago was a superior film, but I feel that this film is getting unfairly maligned.
If you are a fan of any of these fine actresses, or hold fond memories of All That Jazz or 8 1/2, then you should be quite enthralled with the spectacle of Nine, for it is undoubtedly a beautiful spectacle.