Same Old Song and Dance: “Nine”

Nine is a movie that can’t decide whether it wants to be Moulin Rouge or Chicago. Unfortunately, it gets stuck somewhere in the middle, and ends up being a sort of spastic song-and-dance number that’s about as graceful as a cat on roller skates.

Director Rob Marshall clearly wanted to recreate the feeling of his smash hit of 2002, the aforementioned Chicago. Much to my dismay, he failed miserably. Nine focuses on a renowned movie director, Guido Contini, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, as he struggles to make his next big film. Hounded by the press, Guido feels increasing pressure to produce another extravagant money-maker—trouble is, he’s totally stuck.

And because he is a Hollywood version of an Italian male, Guido almost always has sex on the brain. Thus, the various women in Guido’s life—nine in total, an obvious reference to the nine Muses—dance around his head in fabulous, sparkly dance numbers. These women are played by a host of spectacular actresses, from Judi Dench as Lilliane La Fleur, Guido’s no-nonsense secretary, to Carla Albanese, a (married) sex pot played by Penélope Cruz, all of whom are introduced within the first few minutes in a glamorous montage that smacks heavily of The Cellblock Tango scene in Chicago.

(There are literally women in backlit boxes dancing and singing, each getting their own introduction via an individual mini-number. Yeah. Chicago.)

While I am all for glitter, dancing and music, I am not okay with a story that, without it, would be uninteresting—which, unfortunately, Nine is. Stripped of the makeup and sequins, Nine is the story of a washed-up old man who can’t seem to stop lying, and often cannot keep his penis in his pants. Unfortunately for Guido, his infidelity and lies finally catch up to him, and his Muses slowly abandon him, one by one.

The first to go is Carla, who accuses Guido of never having loved her, through the entirety of their affair. The next to go is Guido’s wife, Luisa, played by the beauteous Marion Cotillard, who is fed up with Guido running around on her, and afterwards lying to her about it, even though she knows perfectly well what is going on. The next is the actress Claudia Nardi, portrayed by Nicole Kidman, who admits that she had loved Guido for many years, but resigned herself long ago to never being with him.

And so forth.

Though it really does tug at the heartstrings a bit to see Guido suffering slow abandonment, it is still hard to feel sorry for him, because, at the end of the day, it really is his fault. Personally, I couldn’t help but think that, if he hadn’t lied, he would still be happy and successful. But the point is not the “what if.” It is the “is.”

Despite the big name cast, the only actor who truly shines is Day-Lewis. Because the movie revolves around his character, it is easy for Day-Lewis to strut his stuff. And he struts it well, in the way only Day-Lewis can. But because there are so many women, it is hard to establish truly deep female characters. Thus, almost all the women seem to be rather flat, two-dimensional characters, and are only able to portray the personas the screenwriters decided to slap on them. Granted, each woman is supposed to represent some aspect of Guido himself, but that does not mean they must be only that aspect. However, because of the limited screen time the actresses are given, they are unable to explore their characters in depth. Even Dench, the best of the bunch, is relegated to her old role as the no-nonsense, surrogate mother-esque M persona. This is rather unfortunate, as almost all the actresses have the potential to be brilliant in their roles.

(The exception to this is Fergie, who plays the prostitute/wild woman Saraghina, whom Guido met as a child. Her acting is pretty much on par with her acting in the music video to her song, London Bridge.)

Though I sincerely disliked the way the movie used an amalgamation of gorgeous costumes, singing and dancing as a sort of crutch to dress up an otherwise-bland story, I did, in fact, enjoy these aspects in and of themselves. They were all superbly done, and done in such a way as to highlight the most important aspect of each character’s personality. One of my favorite numbers centers around Kate Hudson’s American-born Vogue journalist, Stephanie. Her song is an appropriately high-fashion, lights-camera-action sequence that—much like a photo spread in a glamorous magazine, such as Vogue—alternates between color and black and white. Though the lyrics express a love for fashion and high culture, they do so in a way that links Stephanie to Guido: Her lust for clothing and glamour mirrors her lust for him; and because Guido’s movies are partially known for their couture and glitzy costumes, these passions are inextricably linked.

The film also features some lovely shots of the Italian coast. Some of the most beautiful scenes actually come at less important points in the movie. For instance, when Guido is driving to Milan to escape the madness of his life in Rome, the camera pans out to show his car circling the bend of a steep incline overlooking a deep cerulean sea. The film unobtrusively highlights the beauty of Italy, specifically Milan, where most of the action takes place, both at night and during the day. During scene in which singing and dancing are absent, the film makes good use of the scenery to highlight the characters’ actions. In turn, the characters’ clothes and general appearance emphasize the beauty of their surroundings, and the two combined help to set the mood of the scene.

But I didn’t pick up this movie to watch it for the scenery. I picked it for the plot. And, sadly, without the singing and dancing, the plot is pretty damn boring. Granted, there are some pretty smokin’ sequences—though her acting is less than commendable, Fergie’s song, Be Italian, is one of the sexiest movie numbers I’ve seen—but they don’t quite make up for an otherwise uninteresting plot. And the fact that Marshall was too timorous not to make the movie an Italian version of Chicago mixed with a dash of Moulin Rouge does not work in its favor.

Like Guido, Marshall’s use of so many women in pretty costumes inevitably came back to bite him in the ass. But unlike Marshall, Guido actually makes a decent movie in the end.

My love forever,

Film Bitch

Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 12:27 am  Leave a Comment  
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