Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review: Nine

By David

Over the last week I caught a number of different productions and films, and I know you are all just salivating with anticipation to hear my opinion on the merits of each.  

I'm going to start with the movie Nine, which is probably the only review you'll care about because the rest are theater productions in New York City and one has already closed, so really, I almost shouldn't bother with the other two, but I will at some point because I can.

But for now - Nine.

(click below to read the full review)

OK, while I love musical theater, I must admit that I am a bit unfamiliar with Nine and have never seen a full production on stage.  I have heard various songs from the show from both the original Broadway production (starring Raul Julia) and the revival that featured Antonio Banderas, but for all intents and purposes I went into the movie without any preconceptions of what I should be seeing.  Let me also preface my review by saying that I loved director Rob Marshall's movie version of Chicago.

Nine is not as strong.  There are many beautiful visual moments in the movie and almost all of the musical numbers are well staged and extremely entertaining.  And for the most part (unlike Sweeney Todd), all the actors who sing in the movie sound like they actually can sing - except for Judi Dench and really, what on earth were you expecting and does it really matter anyway because she's Dame Judi Dench for crissakes?

Still, in Nine Marshall recycles his concept of the musical numbers as interior moments or daydreams by the characters.  The technique does not work as well this time.  Plus it just feels like "oh, THIS again."  The movie kind of flails about narratively, even while it mostly holds close to the musical's original libretto.  Daniel Day-Lewis is the main character - Guido Contini - is a great actor but he is not as charismatic as he needs to be in order to be the compelling center of the whirlwind life he leads.  That puts more pressure on the various women who orbit him to prop up the movie.  And many of them do indeed step up to the plate.

Topping the list is Marion Cotillard as Guido's long suffering wife, Luisa.  She has two exceptional numbers in "My Husband Makes Movies" and "Take It All," both of which break your heart in very different ways.  Her overall performance is touching and wonderfully evocative of Audrey Hepburn without being larcenous.  On the flip side, Penelope Cruz is scrumptiously screwball as the mistress, Carla, and her "A Call From the Vatican" is pure showbiz ambrosia.  The aforementioned Dame Dench pretty much steals every scene she is in effortlessly, and her "Folies Bergere" as Lili the costumer is as delightful as it is atonal.  As Saraghina the town whore, Fergie (?!) gives IMHO the knockout performance of the movie.  "Be Italian" is the song you hear in all the trailers and Fergie, supported by an absolutely dazzling production number, gives you goosebumps.  Less so, but still enjoyable, is Nicole Kidman's Claudia who delivers the touching "Unusual Way."  I love this song but is seems a little lost at sea in the film.

There are two other women I need to discuss who are featured in the movie.  First: Kate Hudson.  OK, I've seen a lot of reviews that just hated her and while she is somewhat abrasive in the movie, I didn't think she stunk up the screen quite the way others have.  And she totally channels her mom in her fun number - created for the film - "Cinema Italiano."  Still her character seems utterly pointless and could have been excised without any effect on the film.

Second:  Sophia Loren.  La Loren is goddess and has earned her place in the cinematic pantheon.  But if Rob Marshall has committed any crime with this movie, it is to show her looking like a refugee from Dr. 90210.  Truly I cringed when she first appeared on the screen.  If movie magic can make Charlize Theron look like a grotesque, you can do better than the travesty that was visited upon our poor Sophia.  At the very least, the makeup artist should have been shot.  Looks aside, Ms. Loren doesn't have much to do in the film and you kind of wish they gave her more moments than just to look regal and imperious from time to time.

Overall, the movie ambles when it should stride purposefully.  However, Marshall does manage to pull the threads together again impressively for the conclusion/finale and he creates a beautiful tableau for the closing sequence that did, in fact, leave me in tears.  It was somewhat evocative of the final moment in "Sunday in the Park with George" and if any of you even know what I'm talking about, you get 10 musical theater bonus points.

In any case, I still think the film is worth seeing, and worth seeing in a movie theater and not on your TV at home while you sit in your underwear.  Again, IMHO, musical theater production numbers should be writ large on the screen to be fully appreciated.  DVD just doesn't cut it.

1 comment:

  1. I was fortunate enough to have seen Antonio Banderas in the revival and frankly, as much as I like DD-L, Antonio would have been superb. He was charismatic as required and he really can sing and act.
    Check out Evita to see how he was able to handle ALW's music.
    And his cast of women were amazing in the revival.
    Ah, well...
    But I enjoyed your review. Much kinder than the others I've read.