It's very difficult to concentrate on writing about Nine when I have the music from it playing incessantly in my head...and on my iTunes. So, first thing out of the gate, at least be reassured that the music is a pleasure to listen to. Thank goodness, too. The first thing one would want in a musical, of course, are numbers that attract the audience, and Nine does deliver on this front. With one or two exceptions, each number is a pleasure to experience, from the Overture to the Finale -- both of which gave me goosebumps and had me a wee wet-eyed.
True, "Folies Bergeres" is surprisingly lacking in life, a pity since it is my favorite from the show AND it's Judi Dench's big number. God knows she tries to deliver, but cutting out the dance break was a bizarre choice, and even the mid-song banter is noncommittal.
True also, the original song "Take It All", though sexy and ending with a punch to the gut, is a little too Chicago for me. The music, the costumes, the production design: I saw it all back in 2002.
But as for the rest, good job. Yes, even "Cinema Italiano" works, as I hoped it would, in context. A shallow song from a shallow character, so it's fine. Indeed, it reminds me of those cheesy pop tunes from the 60s, and I have a great number of those on my iTunes as well. If there is room for Herb Alpert's "Casino Royale Theme", there is room for "Cinema Italiano". And as for the rest of Kate Hudson's performance: Almost Famous was a fluke.
Nicole Kidman does fine with "Unusual Way", though it's always been one my least favorite songs from the show. It matters little, the lady's in and out within minutes. Marion Cotillard takes my second favorite number, "My Husband Makes Movies", and does not fail to impress. Her Luisa is just as wise, broken, and loving as Anouk Aimee's. That lead campaign is a joke, though -- as vital as Luisa is to the storyline, especially in this version, she is still a supporting part. Penelope Cruz is, naturally, sexy and funny, and also surprisingly vulnerable as the mistress. "Call from the Vatican" is a hot number as it is, but Cruz just sizzles. Bring the vapors. Daniel Day-Lewis does well with both his numbers, but his Guido is not as fun-loving as Marcello Mastroianni's. That's not bad, just a different, more emotional take on the character. His voice is just fine, his accent flawless.
I complained to some friends that recent movie musicals lack the huge dance numbers of old. The greatest musical, Funny Face, has one full dance number, plus several songs that stop to allow Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire to do their thing. Nine finally gives me what I want, in Fergie's tambourine dance for "Be Italian". A wonderful performance. Fergie rocks her scenes as Saraghina anyway, though. She does not speak, she just looks trashily sultry, sings, dances. It's not a challenging role at all, but just try looking away from her! The woman commands every scene she's in!
Sophia Loren's "Guarda la Luna" is magical, the song that I've been listening to all day, the song that I hummed to my niece to keep her from crying (it worked a little). It's probably the smoothest transition into a number, too, working as the lullaby it is, and as another layer to Guido's female problems. I didn't even miss the number it replaced, the titular tune "Nine", though audiences not already familiar with the story may.
This, then, is one of the main problems of the film. I know what's going on because I've seen 8 1/2 and I have the Broadway Revival CD of Nine. But will an uninitiated audience get what's going on? They introduce all these women in the Overture without telling you who they are. They just sort of stand there, Guido interacts with them a little, la-di-dah. Hell, after seeing a Nicole Kidman kiss, a Marion Cotillard tenderness, and a Penelope Cruz embrace, it's hard not to think "Oh, God, did he fuck her too?!" when Judi Dench shows up. The bedroom eyes don't help. It's not until much, much later that these women are introduced, and even then, much of who and why they are is unclear.
The film smacks of a strange restraint. It never fully embraces either of its source productions, though it tries to include elements of both. The screenwriters, Anthony Minghella and Michael Tolkin, have never written a musical before, and the awkward transitions between scene and song reveal this unfamiliarity. Director Rob Marshall tries to capture some Fellini-esque moments in flashbacks, but there is reluctance in his execution of it. Those quick cuts, courtesy Claire Simpson and Wyatt Smith, certainly don't help.
Neither does that odd choice of framing the musical numbers as fantasy sequences. Marshall's separation of fantasy and reality in this regard don't mesh with the non-musical mix of fantasy and reality, such as Guido's dead Mamma appearing in his car, or the absent Claudia in his room as he forges her autograph for a fan. If only he would just embrace the genre, the movie would work so much better than it already does -- for rest assured, kiddies, despite all of its problems, the movie works. The transitions are rocky and the direction misguided, but it somehow gets to me. The reality and fantasy sequences are flawed in their mingling, yet separately they are almost beautiful.
Much of this can be attributed to the actors and the technical experts. Dion Beebe's cinematography is gorgeous, the clear front-runner for the Oscar, getting with the material far better than the director, writers or editors or. Colleen Atwood's costumes are still dazzling, and she seems especially inspired by Ms. Cruz and Ms. Loren. The art team does a great job of dressing up a sound stage and a hotel. And the original score by Andrea Guerra deserves a release of its own, paying tribute to Ennio Morricone and Maury Yeston simultaneously, effortlessly.
Dammit, I liked the movie. I would buy it. And as I said, I love listening to the album. Just don't expect Rob Marshall to get any credit, because he is probably the weakest link in this.