Nine, the new movie-musical from director Rob Marshall obviously faced the same challenge as its Oscar-winning predecessor, Chicago: How do you integrate musical numbers with serious drama? In the case of Chicago, the songs were figments of the character Roxie Hart’s imagination. In Nine, it’s not clear what the songs are there for. In fact, though each number is very well produced, it was difficult to find the emotional connection between them and the actual scene that they came out of. Marshall’s attempts at cutting back and forth between the two only made things worse. The original stage musical, Nine, was inspired by the Fellini movie 8 1/2. I haven’t seen either, but the movie-musical is about Italian director, Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) hitting rock bottom. Unable to find inspiration (or write a script) for his latest movie, his mind wanders to visions of various women in his life: Marion Cotillard plays his wife Luisa, Penelope Cruz is his mistress Carla, Sophia Loren plays his mother, Kate Hudson is a Vogue magazine reporter, Judi Dench his costume designer and confidante, Nicole Kidman plays his star and muse Claudia Jenssen, and finally Black Eyed Pea Fergie is Saraghina (a woman from Contini’s childhood). As the pressure mounts on all sides, Contini tries to run away from all the damage he’s done to his own life and the people around him.
The star power of this movie is a bit off-the-hook. Of the main cast, all but Fergie and Kate Hudson are Oscar winners (and Hudson was at least nominated)! Unfortunately, the wattage of the casting may have overloaded the film. Each woman gets one song and essentially one scene with Day-Lewis. With the exception of Cotillard and Cruz, we never really get the time to care about any of the characters. In a stage musical, we bridge that gap through connecting to the music and the passion of the performances. Here the numbers come off like distractions from the main story, unrelated to the characters in it. Nevertheless, the actresses do the best they can with limited parts, especially Cruz and Cotillard. Day-Lewis is in almost every scene; and while he is clearly an excellent actor with multiple Oscars to prove it, all he seems to do in this movie is wallow in self-pity (but he’s surprisingly not bad in the musical performance department — who knew?). In the end, it just wasn’t conveyed (through music or drama) what exactly these women each meant to Contini.
Despite the weaknesses of its dramatic side, the musical side of Nine is pretty good. The staging is stylish and fun, and everyone handles the dancing and singing quite well. Occasionally the music sounds a little dated, but this is a film set in the 60s. The best numbers were Judi Dench’s surprising cabaret number and Kate Hudson’s runway number. I never even knew Cotillard could sing, but she gave a very heartfelt and tragic performance about how her husband had taken every piece of her. Kidman’s number paled in comparison to her star-turn in Moulin Rouge.
It’s unfortunate that Nine does not live up to past movie-musicals. It never really resolves the tension between musical and drama, and it seems to contradict its own theme of substance over style. The last thing a movie-musical should be is boring and unfortunately Nine crossed over into into that territory several times. 3 out of 5.