What is there to say about “Nine?” I’d seen the story before–and better told—in “8 ½,” on which it is based (well, on which the stage musical which this is based on, was based). There are plenty of gorgeous scantily clad women to look at, though Rob Marshall’s camera often glosses over most of them (except for Penelope Cruz, in her introductory dance number). This could be for a variety of reasons, or simply because Marshall thought “BIG” with this production. There are plenty of wide shots and chaotic “look this camera is handheld which is telling you that this is run and gun and busy type filming”—you’ve seen it before.

You also get to see Daniel Day Lewis in his stunning performance as Dracula…er, I mean Guido, a film director (though those following along with the blog will notice a similarity between Lewis’s vocals and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s” play-within-the film). His performance is maniac and you really want to like him, but, I don’t think the film gives him enough to do.

This is probably because it sticks rather close to the original source material, to my surprise. The brilliance of Fellini “8 ½” was it was a film of true interiors. We were inside Mastrionni’s head: his fears, his anxieties; his views and uncertainties of the world. The rest was just a continuing circus which went on and on. It was an artist in crisis, and Fellini’s telling title (it was his ninth film [technicality: he directed a segment of a film also after his eighth, call it 8 ¼]) was a wink of what was in store, as well as, perhaps him bleeding out his struggles and trepidations of the future on film, without much sheen or pomp and circumstance.

But, as I said, this “Nine” is big, so, while it does certainly get the circus bit right (and Marshall can be credited for a whirling camera which never relents as it follows Lewis), it fails at the internals. Sure, we get bits where he calls for his mama, but that is literally what Marshall seems to think he needs to get into this guys head. “Ah, he misses his mama. Case closed.” There’s so much more. An two sentence exchange between Colena and I during the screening evoked more depth than this arch.

But then there is music, and it is done in an interesting way, as cross cut sequences between life and stage. Sometimes I feel they severely damage the film, such as when we leave a bitingly sad argument (perhaps the final) between Guido and his wife, to instead get a dance number which will explain away what happens. Then we cut back to the argument’s end. I would have rather had the argument. But sometimes, they are interesting, and nobody can doubt it’s at least a new take.
Maybe I don’t get musicals though. As with “Sweeny Todd,” the song lyrics sound so banal and silly (“My husband makes movies”) and the music is rather standard. The dance numbers are well put together (and well dressed, or not) but that is all. I left the film trying to understand why the attempt to bring “8 ½” to musical form in the first place was attempted. I didn’t see an obvious leap into music here…they kind of just put it in. Still, as far as remakes go, this is at least a different variation on the tale I suppose.

Not to sound all bad, there is a utterly marvelous performance by Marion Cotillard, as Guido’s wife. It is a touching and sensitive performance, and I did not find any fault with it. Every scene that she is in works, and her performance should be commended. Penelope Cruz also does funny and cute well here.

But maybe I’m missing a wink or a nod here, too. After all Fellini named his version, his ninth film “8 ½” and it was a brilliant study and critique of life, film, love, etc—a lot more, and a lot less you could say. This tale is about Guido’s ninth film and it is a big bad musical. It is called “Nine.”

NOTE: in 2009  there have been two films named after the number. “Nine” and “9,” in case you wanted to know.

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