Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Nine: Grade F

Nine (2009)

Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren, Kate Hudson; Director Rob Marshall.

Usually it is not worth the time or effort to review movies that I consider failures (and there are plenty of those absent from this blog), but this musical received four 2009 academy award nominations so it seems possible that other people saw it differently than I.

It is, in large part, an homage to Fellini’s 1963 film, 8 ½. A famous Italian director (Day-Lewis) has trouble getting his movie made, and even his script written. As he imagines or stages parts of the show, we get frequent loud, colorful, feathery song and dance numbers, which are the heart of this film. Intercut are b&w scenes that look like they are taken right from 8 ½ although my memory is not detailed enough to say for sure. The analogy is self-flattery at best anyway, for “Nine” has none of the creativity of the original.

For my tastes, this film is recycled cliché (if that is possible), a lot of it taken from the dreadful 2002 musical, Chicago, by the same director. It has a similar set, similar Fosse-style choreography, and similar music. Then it tries to add Fellini-esque moves but gets those wrong. For example, there is a number with Cruz wiggling around, showing her butt like a pole dancer, but if that’s supposed to invoke earthy Fellini sensuality, it is quite wide of the mark. How much talent can a butt have, even Penelope’s? Other dance numbers involve women writhing around pseudo-erotically on wooden chairs with their knees spread as if it meant something. The dance numbers have none of Fosse’s aggressive eroticism and none Fellini’s lyricism. It is just cliché action for the sake of action, apparently with the idea that the feathers and bustiers will make up for what’s missing in musical and choreographic integrity.

Cinematography is not bad, lighting is often good, but the dance numbers are all so setbound that there isn’t much to look at. When we do get off the multiply arched Coliseum-like set (similar to that used in Chicago), the shots are stereotypes, using strong color filters, high contrast lighting, odd angles, etc. without discernible purpose.

Kidman can sort of sing, and she acquits herself without disgrace, but all the songs, to my ear, amount to little more than braying. There is zero dramatic tension, the dialog lacks any originality, and the acting is almost self-parody (especially by Day-Lewis). Even the costumes are stereotypes. All of that could be excused in a musical if the songs and dances were compelling, but here they are just noisy exercises in shouting and random wiggling. I could not find any redeeming virtue. Others did, apparently, so my conclusion must be simply that this film was not to my taste.

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