With Daniel Day Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Fergie. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking. 118 minutes.
It’s hard to say why the reviews of NINE have been so savage. For some critics it’s a travesty of Federico Fellini’s signature film “8 ½.” For others, they simply don’t like musicals and treated this film with the same contempt they treated director Rob Marshall’s “Chicago.” Truth be told, it’s a good, but not a great, movie, and one well worth seeing if you like musicals. But see it fast. It probably won’t be in theaters very long.
For those who don’t know the Fellini film (or the Broadway show), “Nine” is the story of Italian movie director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) who is at a professional crossroads. He has enjoyed a number of successes, but he really doesn’t know what he wants to do next. Meanwhile everyone – the press, his producer, his wife, his mistress, his crew – wants to know what he wants to do. What he wants is to be left alone, but that’s not an option.
“Nine” is essentially Guido’s journey into his soul, as the various women of his life confront him in reality and in his imagination. Thus he gets solace from his dead mother (Sophia Loren) and relives his first encounter with sexuality with the prostitute in his home village (Fergie). There’s also his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penelope Cruz), his leading lady (Nicole Kidman), a reporter (Kate Hudson), and his costume designer (Dame Judi Dench), each of whom, in her own way, make demands on him. If “Nine” is about anything, it is about how Guido integrates all these women into his psyche and is ready to take the reins of his life again.
Since this is a musical, each of these dealings inevitably results in a production number. This is where the critics divide. Most of them despise the numbers – the songs, the dances, the performers – and thus they conclude the film is a failure. A fair criticism is that Marshall relies too much on editing rather than choreography to make his points, but he’s nowhere as guilty as Baz Luhrmann was with “Moulin Rouge!” (2001) where you couldn’t find two dance steps together in the same shot.
While this reviewer prefers Stephen Sondheim and does not consider “Nine” one of the great modern musicals, there’s certainly a lot of wit and energy on display here. Kate Hudson leads a production number in tribute to the films of Contini and his contemporaries called “Cinema Italiano” that’s a lot of fun, while Penelope Cruz does a steamy burlesque number ironically entitled “A Call From The Vatican.”
After the success of “Chicago” got Hollywood thinking of musicals again, there have been a lot of misfires. For every “Hairspray” or “Sweeney Todd,” we’ve had to endure “Mamma Mia!” (an inexplicable hit) as well as “Rent,” “The Producers,” and “Phantom Of The Opera” (which all flopped). “Nine” may not make it at the box office, but it’s a lot better than some would have you believe, and much more entertaining than some of the stuff being touted as the “best of the year.”•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.