Tuesday, January 5, 2010



I'm a believer in signs.

When the opening moments of a film feature a church bell tolling followed by the line "Good luck, Maestro," it’s not a good sign.

NINE is the story of Italian film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day Lewis). It begins as he contemplates filming his next movie, the grandly titled ITALIA. It is to star Claudia Jenssen (Nicole Kidman) and begin filming in ten days. What's the film about? Maestro's not so sure. You see, he hasn't finished the script yet; matter of fact, he hasn't even started!

As he struggles to turn cinematic water into wine, we are slowly introduced to the various women who have gotten him this far:

There's his ingenue wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard),
his fiery mistress, Carla (Penelope Cruz),
his costume designer, Lili la Fleur (Judi Dench),
the prostitute who opened his eyes as a child, Saraghina (Fergie),
the fashion writer who adores his work, Stephanie (Kate Hudson),
the aforementioned diva who he directs to greatness, Caludia (Kidman),
and of course, his mother (Sophia Loren).

One by one they interact with Guido: some face to face, some in memory, some day in and day out, some only in fleeting moments. And while song after song chants his name in the lyrics (literally), maestro can't seem to tap into that part of the dolce vita that has brought him such success.

His project is ready to crumble, his sanity and physical health is fading, his marriage is in worlds of trouble, and nobody seems to be able to offer him the right bit of guidance. Not his wife, not his doctor, not his mistress, not even his priest.

For me more than anything else, NINE is a mess. It seems like it may well be an enjoyable musical if not a particularly memorable one. It certainly isn't a musical that needed to be adapted into a feature film. Why? Let me spell this out: this is a film based on the musical based on the autobiographical film of a man trying to make a film!

I truly believe that Rob Marshall did as good a job in adapting this show to the screen as anybody possibly could, but therein lies the rub—the adaptation still isn't good enough. Part of the problem is that Marshall tries to employ the same trick he used in CHICAGO; he wants to make the musical numbers extensions of the lead characters’ imagination. That's a great trick once Rob, but there's no way I'll go for it twice.

NINE comes off like a series of disjointed moments with flashes of brilliance that disappear far too quickly. It suffers from underachievement in acting, style over substance, and worst of all for a musical, mediocre singing. Seriously folks, while she knocked her number out of the park, you've seriously miscalculated if Fergie is your best singer on board.

Strangely for a film that features prominent roles for seven different women, none of the roles seem to carry any sort of weight. I'm not suggesting any of them be able to go toe-to-toe with Daniel Day-Lewis, but at least one of the seven should be able to make her part matter a bit more than it does. Nay, every single one of them breeze in and out without making much of a dramatic dent. Lordy, where's Uma Thurman speaking Swedish when you need her?

So if the ladies can't save the film, what about the maestro himself? Strange as it is for me to say this, I feel let down by Daniel Day-Lewis. He begins with such promise, delivering an opening monologue full of delicacy and love about the magic of filmmaking; . . . then he calls it a day. Not only is his Italian accent bad, but it gets a whole lot worse when he starts singing (which sucks especially since he's one of the few characters who get two turns at the mic). At first he reminded me of my bad impression of my Italian father-in-law. However, as the film went on, I realized I had it wrong. He wasn't doing my bad impression of my father-in-law; he was doing a bad impression of my bad impression of my father in law!

It seems as though from the very beginning, much like the events that unfold within the story, this movie fell victim to believing in its own legend. The fact is that only one song from this film really stands on its own. To give the other nine character numbers any sort of fighting chance, the cast should have been filled out with Broadway virtuosos. Instead, the legend of NINE demanded that only famous film actresses would do, and thus the film was doomed.

Believe in cinematic signs of fate. Toll the bell and strike the set—NINE is only a four and a half. At best.


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