Friday, December 18, 2009

Nine Thoughts I Had On... Nine

In lieu of a traditional review of Rob Marshall's Nine, which opens Friday in limited release and then expands a week later for the Christmas box office rush, I've opted for random thoughts, nine of them, strung together. This is a survival tactic. I've spent so long obsessing on the movie prior to its release (prior to even its casting given my enthusiasm for the mid-Aughts Broadway revival) that a review proper couldn't contain me. It would kill me. I got no choreography, I'll just have to spit out my words however they come out. Picture them flying from the blog like sand from Fergie's fingers

Beeeeeeeeee Italian. Beee Italian....

Story. The plot of Nine, as you may know, is about a film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) suffering an artistic crisis: His production team is ready to shoot, his costume designer (Judi Dench) is ready to stitch, his muse (Nicole Kidman) is ready to act but there's no script (!), no story even (!!!). I haven't read even one of the supposedly many negative reviews of Nine but surely some of them will gripe that the same is true of this movie. This is what's known as "missing the point". Nine is based on the stage musical Nine which is itself based on Federico Fellini's masterful and none of them have anything resembling a traditionally satisfying plot. Not the point. The original movie, the stage musical, and the new movie musical share a premise rather than a plot, which is the director's crisis. That's it. The concept is the plot. The rest is all flourish and curlicues of self awareness. It's the cinema as memoir or character study (only without the character... sort of. We'll get to that). Guido spends the movie running away from this crisis but the crisis follows him. You can't escape yourself.

"Guido... Ciao!" Guido, despite the character details embedded within his womanizing, his fame and general obsessiveness is not a fully fleshed-out character. I don't even think he was in original form in when he was played by Marcello Mastroianni though my memo
ry on this point might be faulty. It's been years since I've seen it. Guido is the stand-in for the offscreen author, around which everything swirls. This is why I think Daniel Day-Lewis is miscast. Here is an actor who is great at filling in details and what the role needs is someone upon whom the movie can project its issues. Day-Lewis is good at mapping out Guido's evasiveness and his oddly symbiotic self-regard and self-doubt but he's not good at being a blank slate for the man behind the curtain. Guido's most elaborately fleshed out incarnation was when he was called Joe Gideon in All That Jazz but that's another masterpiece altogether.

Or is it?

No Man Behind the Curtain In some ways though, Day-Lewis's detailing helps. For Nine doesn't come across as a self-portrait unless Rob Marshall is having a post Memoirs of a Geisha crisis. As well he should! All That Jazz is a far better musical interpretation of than Nine has ever been really, because it's also a self-portrait by a narcissistic but brilliant director. Nine the musical doesn't have and has never had that potent force of personality. But it does have...

Music. Which is delicious. I've heard a lot of griping from fellow critics that the songs aren't catchy but, right or wrong, I always view this particular gripe as a complaint of the unwashed masses, he said fully aware of his own musical snobbery. It's the same complaint you'll sometimes hear from tourists about Stephen Sondheim musicals. And Sondheim is a genius. The songs are just a little more challenging than those insant sing-a-longs that people who don't really love musicals want when they attend a musical. But even when you don't love a song, and I've listened to the original cast recording of Broadway's Nine revival hundreds of times and never found anything to love within "My Husband Makes Movies", one singer/actress's interpretation can change everything.

The Mrs. Marion Cotillard plays Luisa Contini and I call her a singer/actress because that's what she is. Her international breakthrough came while playing a singer (Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose) but she wasn't actually singing in that film. Who knew? She sings so well that she's able to act through her vocals without the dread talk-singing that many actors opt for [*cough* Daniel Day-Lewis and Johnny Depp] when they're trying to sing. She's doing both simultaneously and organically and it's exceptionally pleasing to the eyes and ears. You can tell that Rob Marshall knows it, too. It's the one moment in the film where he seems to just slow down (Nine is very ADD in its editing, as is the habit of most movies, particularly action films and musicals) and watch and it's mesmerizing. It's so mesmerizing that one of my least favorite songs in the show suddenly reveals itself as the key song, the film's highlight.
My husband makes movies.
To make them he lives a kind of dream
In which his actions aren't always what they seem.
He may be on to some unique romantic theme.
Some men catch fish, some men tie flies, some earn their living baking bread.
My husband, he goes a little crazy...
Making movies instead.
The Cast. Not everyone fares as well. Kate Hudson can dance but she's saddled with an extraneous character and the worst number, a horrid if catchy song "Cinema Italiano" that was written for the film (for what purpose, I do not know. Perhaps to educate young audiences about mainstream America's fascination with foreign auteurs in the 50s and 60s?). I hate this song but suspect we'll be hearing it on the Oscar broadcast. Whatever my feelings about Kate Hudson, I hope she agrees to perform it. It sucks when movie stars are replaced by other people when the Oscar performance of their song rolls around.

The Song Score. I've tried but I can't let it go. I have no idea why Marshall thought it wise to remove "Nine" which is a far better number for Sophia Loren (playing Guido's Mamma) than the new lullaby she's given. And the film's title makes little sense without the number. Marshall has also removed "Simple" which is one of the best songs in the whole score, and which might have been a terrific way of pulling all the female supporting characters together. Nine in its new form has a distressing tendency to separate all its players on their own soundstages as if they're all figments of Guido's imagination. Even if that's a valid read of the story, it seems to me that they should start colliding once Guido's compartmentalized world starts crumbling. "Simple" was the number to do that. That said, the new number "Take It All" is a great addition, again focusing on Marion Cotillard's soulful performance and vocal prowess. She's so good in the film, she nearly justifies the restructured if rather more generic emphasis on Failed Marriage that this new Nine leans so heavily on. At the expense of...

The Muse & The Mistress. Claudia (Nicole Kidman) and Carla (Penélope Cruz) aren't quite as prominent here as they have been in past incarnations but both movie stars send jolts of electricity through the film with their diva entrances. Kidman is the first woman to enter the film, blissfully appropriately bathed in spotlight in the film's opening swirl of cast introductions. Claudia must have been the hardest role to cast, since the character isn't in much of the film but must convey something you can't act: global fame, untouchable star persona. I can't think of many actresses outside of Kidman who could have sold this role... possibly Angelina Jolie? So Kidman's vocal limitations -- she has a pleasant enough voice but it's not musically specific enough to match the depth of her normal acting -- aren't as much of a problem as they would be in another role. Cruz, has a different problem. She's terrific in the film but for her big scene, the musicals best number, which she undersells. She's sensationally sexy in "A Call From the Vatican", don't get me wrong. But her adroit skill with comedy is partially lost in the musical performance (the lyrics to "Vatican" are hilarious and it's tough to hear them in Cruz's rendition). She's far far better in her non-singing scenes where she totally nails both the drama of Carla's desperation and the comedy of her guileless desire "I'll be waiting right here. With my legs open."

Marshall. If it sounds like I'm hopelessly contradictory about the quality of Nine, I am. The source material (both on stage and previously on film) is strong and Marshall's wise decisions are frustratingly intermingled with his poor ones (and the latter will make some people justifiably cuh-razy). Chief among the triumphs is his choice of cinematographer. Dion Beebe does phenomenal work and its a marked improvement on his similarly premised work on Chicago. Marshall also stages the musical numbers well (unobscured by eager film editing, I'm guessing they'd be great on stage). "Be Italian", while arguably too similar to Chicago's "Cell Block Tango", is still thrilling to watch and ferociously performed by Fergie.

Even while I was enjoying the numbers I found myself still resenting Marshall's status as THE go to man for film musicals, especially since he doesn't seem to fully trust the form. He employs, again, the overly literal notion/gimmick that musical numbers must take place in the imagination because people don't sing in real life. Note to everyone: If people don't like to watch people burst into song, they probably aren't going to go to musicals. People who go to musicals WANT to see people burst into song. It's not a realist film genre.

The only huge disappointment in terms of a "number" is Judi Dench's "Folies Bergeres". It's so busy visually that it runs into the same problem as Chicago's "Razzle Dazzle" number: so many bright competing colors combined with too much movement and it all becomes a muddy mess. And it goes on forever.

But again for every couple of failures, a triumph: the finale is perfect. And don't you have to end well? Marshall closes the movie with an inspired, beautifully simple fusion of stage trope and literal movie-making. The finale is both a curtain call and a new beginning and I left the movie theater humming Nine's 'lalalalalas'.

You should always leave a musical humming.

Grade: B
If you must know it's like... Marion: A, Penélope: A (but for "A Call From the Vatican" which is a B), The original score: A-, the two new big songs: B+ and D, Nicole: B+, Judi: B+ (but for "Folies Bergeres" a C), Fergie: B (but please note: this is not an acting role), Daniel Day-Lewis: B-, Sophia Loren: exempt from grading. She's only there because they have to do something authentic for Italia!. Kate Hudson: C , Rob Marshall: C+


Andrew K. said...

Thanks Nathaniel. In a bad day, this cheers me up, although the backlash is saddening [and I wish you liked it more]. That probably means I'll love it. You raise so many good points [me=jealous] especially about "Simple" which would have been the perfect number to tie them all together.

The Sondheim/Yeston comparison is true. You're not a musical snob, but audiences are lazy. I mean do they really want ALW ballads popping up left and right? But I digress.

And, I heard Nicole's "Unusual Way" and I prefer to Laura Benanti's version, which annoyed me. It was sung well, but just seemed way too emotional [and soprano] for Claudia. Nicole sings it cold and sad, as I think it should be.

Whew. I haven't seen it and I wrote all this.

OtherRobert said...

Fergie get's a B?

I don't know what to believe in anymore. Could her number have been magically reedited in what I was assured was "finished except for a few sound issues" months ago? Was I unduly harsh because I had already grown to dispise the Black Eyed Peas because of a thankless camp job? No. I actually like Fergie. I loved her in Planet Terror and think she has a strong voice.

Maybe I missed the subtlety of rolling around in the sand, pouting her lips, and not receiving any close-ups during her big song and dance number?

Still love Hudson and Cinema Italiano. That's going to be the Oscar winner for song.


@OtherRobert... i guess to each their own. I have heard so many people hating on her but she can definitely sing and that's my number #1 requirement for musicals. It's not like she has to do any acting! It's a broad strokes cameo. She's a broad. Who wants to be stroked.

Criticlasm said...

Thanks for posting, and I've felt the same about posting about this--namely that it might take me HOURS to talk about what I think about it. But...

I agree on Kidman, she surprised me--though why he filmed her from the back during the most emotional moment of the song is beyond me. I miss the wierd hysterical goofy sexiness and humor during A CAll from the Vatican, but that's a larger issue with all this "sexiness" that's all over the place misses the humor and the humanity, so it ends up being not sexy at all- just women in skimpy clothing. Cruz is very skilled, and sexier in the scenes.

Check out the original Saraghina for vulgarity and fascination. I kept wishing for something that brave in this movie.

Cinema Italiano is just out of place, and what happened to anyone who didn't like Guido? The character was pointless, although Marsall talked about that being him facing his "addiction" so that's where they were going?

Why did "Be Italian" have to look like Cabaret? This movie felt like a Fosse knock-off, and that made me sad.

I really do feel that by avoiding the vulgar fascination, fancifulness and heart of 8 1/2 and the emotional heart of the original musical (Simple/Be On Your Own/Nine), he avoided making a resonant movie, whatever story he was telling.

Cotillard is brilliance, and I can't believe he chopped up her great work at the end with that song as a striptease? Even if I didn't know the original, it would still miss the point.

It just felt so pedestrian for a story that allows you to do whatever you want. Why everything on a soundstage? Why is his imagination limited to that?

DDL--I like him so much, and he's doing great work for a different movie, but I agree he's miscast. He's not warm or sexy, and that's what you need when you're whole story is about how everyone wants a piece of him. I didn't get it.

That said, love musicals, glad people are aware of it in any way, and will probably see it again.

And go get popcorn during Cinema Italiano.

Hilary Swank said...

It's nice to hear a good review on NINE. It seems to be doing pretty poorly critic wise so far, and yet is going pretty decent in awards.........which doesn't make sense.

Runs Like A Gay said...

You should always write reviews like this - raw and honest. I'm still very much looking forward to seeing it.

Jason Adams said...

I know it's well-documented that I'm not a musical fan, but I went into Nine last night really in the mood for a musical. I wanted to be both razzled, and dazzled. But man alive Marshall just went out of his way to annoy me! Like Criticlasm said about Nicole (who I liked, I didn't get around to her in my review) being filmed from the back during an emotional moment - I felt like that happened all over the place. Even in Marion's wonderful performance of "My Husband Makes Movies" I distinctly remember this long moment where I wanted to see her face and she was facing the other way, or another time where he's showing us DDL when I wanted to see her, and I was just so frustrated by it all. And I can be fine with ADD editing if it's done well, but I just don't feel like he ever found a rhythm with it here. It felt like the entire thing was cut in a panic, trying to make a lot out of nothing, because it was shot by someone who wasn't even looking through the viewfinder half the time.

I will argue against DDL not being sexy though. The man is sexy with a capital SEX. But also I agree with Nat's assertion that we could've probably used a blanker slate of an actor. That is, if Guido's really supposed to be such a projection of a character, and that's what it felt like this version called for (I remember Mastroianni being more of a character in 8 1/2 than this, but it's been awhile for me too).

Well if nothing else I've written a bunch about a musical, and that doesn't happen often. So that's something. Thanks for the link, Nat.

OtherRobert said...

It's not like she has to do any acting! It's a broad strokes cameo. She's a broad. Who wants to be stroked.

I can accept that. The B is what sent me into a film rage. She sang the song well and obviously showed her lust towards little boys.

Catherine said...

Really thoughtful review, Nathaniel. It's appreciated how honest you're being.

I haven't seen the film or heard the movie soundtrack yet, but the Broadway Cast recording has been on almost constant rotation on my iPod over the past week. I definitely agree with you on this irritating trend of people complaining the songs aren't catchy (although, did they zone out during "Be Italian"? That thing is catchy as H1N1). It's not Rogers & Hart or High School Musical and its not trying to be. You need to listen to some of the songs a few times to really latch onto the hooks, which I guess is a problem if you only see the film once without knowing the score beforehand. People just want instant gratification! I don't if the score is as musically complex as Sondheim - it doesn't transport me like his stuff does - but I really, really like it as a musical and I can't wait to see the film, even if I'm fully prepared to be let down. I just relish any chance I get to see a musical on the big screen!

@Andrew That's interesting about Kidman's 'Unusual Way'. I absolutely LOVE Benanti's version of it but I totally see where you're coming from; I've made that exact same criticism about other songs in different musicals. I'm really intruiged about hearing Nicole sing it now...

adelutza said...

I can't wait to see this. Since January!

Dude said...

Great, insightful review. Really honest, and though my expectations are really low for Nine right now, quality wise, due to all the bad critics reception, I feel most of those critics are just vague and you don't really get what they mean. As always, I can't wait to watch it, and I'm pretty sure I'll have a good time. Already seen most of Penelope's number through clips that are scattered on the internet, and loved it. And the songs are SO catchy. Looking forward to it. Thanks Nate!

GregWA said...

Thanks for your review. Somehow, you've become a voice I trust or at least respect. To demonstrate my affection for this musical, when you wrote that Simple had been cut from the movie, I literally teared up. Having already weathered the amputation of The Germans at the Spa, it was more than I could take. But I am still determined to go see the movie and enjoy every minute I can. And I bet there will be lots of them. Thanks again!

gabrieloak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gabrieloak said...

I have to say I hate the song Cinema Italiano. One of the worst songs Yeston has written. And he's written some wonderful songs. I hope Take It All is nominated for the Oscar instead.

gabrieloak said...

I'm going to see this on Saturday expecting nothing. I love the original show and will be missing most of the score that has been cut.

Marshall said in one of his interviews that he didn't think today's audiences could accept characters singing to each other. This is one of the silliest things I've ever heard and an incredible misunderstanding of what musicals are all about. (He must hate Umbrellas of Cherbourg).

I actually like My Husband Makes Movies, despite the somewhat awkward lyrics. Maybe because Luisa is one of my favorite characters in the show. Loved Mary Stuart Masterson on stage as well as Karen Akers.

I think Marshall made a mistake cutting out so many songs. Nine and Getting Tall were essential in reaching an audience. So were Simple and Only with You. And not having a great singer sing Unusual Way was a mistake. I still like Shelley Burch's version on the original Broadway cast album.

I imagine the Guido Contini, Luisa del Forno motif has been lost in the movie, just one of many musical details in the score Marshall had no patience for.

Oh well I can always look forward to another stage revival of Nine, which I hope won't incorporate elements of the movie (which revivals of The Sound of Music now do.)

Jim T said...

I'm sorry for the off topic: I did NOT like Avatar. And that's really sad. I wanted to love badly!

question 1) Is it supposed to be a bit blurry with the 3D glasses as it usually happens with 3D films or was that supposed to be different? Because I really couldn't fully enjoy the incredible visual stuff. Especially at the beginning. Perhaps it was the cinema's (glasses or whatever) fault.

question 2) Wasn't the script 90% ridiculous? I swear, I was warned and prepared for some simplicity but this was just insulting.

I really don't say this to be a troll or anything. I wanted to love it.

kent said...

i really do hope it's marion cotillard who gets nominated over penelope cruz for the oscar. her NINE performance seems to justify her for even being nominated in the first place for LA VIE EN ROSE.

nathaniel, which one of cotillard's musical numbers did you like best? "my husband makes movies" or "take it all"?

Flosh said...

it took me a second to realize that that was sand falling out of fergie's hand. on first glance i thought it might be her fingernails. which would've been an interesting choice, i think.

Nate said...

I agree with Nathaniel.

I didn't find "A Call from the Vatican" to be that great. Penelope was fun in her role, but I thought Marion was better ( and I'm not a big fan of hers).

Fergie was fine, she didn't do anything but sing and she did it well.

Kate Hudson's song was horrible, it was a huge "WTF is this shit" for me!

Overall it was an okay film, not as bad as the critics say.

Ian said...

31% on Rotten Tomatoes and 51% on Metacritic currently. Not looking good at all, guys.

Paul Outlaw said...

Just saw Nine. So many great elements, such an unsatisfying whole. The cinematography and costumes are sensational, Cotillard & Cruz are stellar, Day-Lewis is intriguing... I kept thinking, I should really be moved by all the angst and drama, they're really selling it...but no dice.

A for effort, C for result.

This is a weird year.

Pf_Iggy said...

Glad to read a good review and in this form. I love it.

It's interesting that of all Oscar winners present in this movie the two getting more praise are the two academy award winners more questioned of the whole cast. Good for them.

I've been seeing every single promotion bit I've been given, so I'll be watching it regardless of bad reviews (I fully enjoyed Australia last year, in spite of the flaws). Having watched the youtube clips all I can say is Wow to Cotillard's singing and to Cruz's Italian accent. I'm not Italian (even though Be Italian is stuck in my head), but it sounds pretty convincing. I think that had this performance been prior to VCB, people would be going head over heels for her.

Paul Outlaw said...

Driving home from the Nine screening last night, I turned to my friend and said, "Day-Lewis as Benjamin Barker, Depp as Guido Contini. Better casting?"

Dorian said...

Told ya'll that my girl Marion would rock it in this! Her Oscar win was no damn fluke. Make it happen Marion and get your second nomination!

Though I knew from the start that Daniel Day-Lewis was all wrong for Guido. It really should have been Antonio Banderas' role in the end, and it's sad thinking what could have been.


@Paul. Wow. Instantly both movies are better. Although I'd prefer no on either of them because they aren't singers.

I know i have said this too often but I don't really get where Hollywood is coming from not developing actual movie musical stars as opposed to letting preexisting movie stars do a half-assed job of singing. Do people go to action blockbusters for mediocre visual effects experiences or do they expect top of the line f/x and innovation? Music is the selling point of musicals. So shouldn't that part be the focus?

Paul Outlaw said...

@ Nat:

Yeah, my friend and I couldn't come up with anybody in Hollywood that could sing Guido and hold his own on a marquee. (And seriously, DDL is more of a prestige choice than a box office draw...)


I guess I just don't understand why it always has to be a name? They don't *always* have a name for other film genres. DISTRICT 9 did just fine without names. AVATAR doesn't have "names" that really sell tickets. I know those are scifi epics but i'm stuck on this idea that musicals should be sold on their music the way war movies are sold on violence, horror movies are sold on being scary, and comedies are sold on being funny.

I just don't think the recent box office performances of musicals (pretty sturdy and dependably in the $40-100 range) indicate that stars make *that* big a difference.

Or if they're going to go with stars go with stars who have already had success in music / musicals (like the cast of Hairspray or Dreamgirls) or who obviously should be starring in them: [Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Patrick Wilson... maybe Charlize Theron and Claire Danes (if it's a dance musical and if they're as good as rumored)] or why not take a chance on Broadway performers like they did in another decades. One could certainly never argue with the tranferability of BARBRA STREISAND and JULIE ANDREWS

Paul Outlaw said...

When you mention the goddess Julie Andrews, the steam starts coming out of my ears--Camelot, My Fair Lady, ouch...she was too old to play Polly in The Boyfriend when that film was produced, of course...

Criticlasm said...

The Guido/Luisa DelForno thing thing is indicative of something that I caught in the revival and in this one--taking away the power of the women.

Taking out Simple and Be On Your Own takes away the agency of the women in leaving him.

And changing the lyric from "Guido Contini, Luisa Del Forno, actress with dreams and a life of her own" to "Guido Contini/Luisa his lover.." you think "okay, you have a life of your own, but you're completely identified by him?" That's the issue I have is that the strength of the musical is the strength of the women, and a lot of that was taken away by lots of little choices like that adding up. Kidman had about the most, but her character was still as sketchy as the others, if not more so.

I loved Cotillard's voice the most. She's great.

@Paul - that's a great idea, but I do agree with Nat--what's wrong with casting singers, even with "act-y" voices? (even if like Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which utilizes those kinds of voices so well)

Goran said...

I'm still confused why Banderas wasn't cast? Is he too old? Too has-been? Not enough box office appeal? Does DDL have any box office appeal?

And wouldn't the target audience of housewives be a lot more into the idea of seeing Banderas on the big screen rather than DDL?

Paul Outlaw said...

And another thing: being a fan of Glee did not help my enjoyment of Nine, because during most of the numbers I kept thinking, "Hairography, hairography..."

Dominique said...


Thank you! Now I know what to tell people who ask me why I don't like Nine.

Hairography indeed...


@Dom and Paul
Maybe the success of GLEE will help Hollywood realize that nobody will hate you if you cast actual musical biggies in musicals. Lea Michele and Matthew MOrrison weren't exactly household names but they're perfect for that show and now they're more famous.


i don't really harbor a huge desire to make movies but sometimes I wish that I had and did and it would be my purpose in life to rejuvenate the musical and I would have started earlier than 2000 ;) and they would have always been cast for musical talent first, everything else second.

Paul Outlaw said...

Cross your fingers:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Alison Flynn said...

Thank you for this well-thought out and balanced write-up. I've been looking forward to reading your thoughts on this movie.

I won't be able to see it until it goes wide next week, but I'm going in without huge expectations. You've pointed out the good aspects and the flaws, and provided a very good analysis of those flaws, which I appreciate. Many critics have been tearing this to shreds but their reviews don't really provide concrete reasons for their loathing of this movie.

Alison Flynn said...

Oh, and I agree 100% with your views on casting for musicals. I don't know why Hollywood has to value "big names" over talented singing actors who have trained for and performed musical theater.

jess said...

Actually I'm addicted to Kidman's version of Unusual Way. I think it's both cold and emotional, just how it should be.

Can't wait for Rabbit Hole

Clarence said...

So I finally saw Nine today and I was surprised that there were a lot of people there. However, there were a few people who left midway through the film, and frankly I wasn't surprised.

I went in very excited since I've been dying to see the film since I saw the original trailer back in Mayish? The movie started very well, I thought. The cinematography and the choreography at the beginning was wonderful. After that, DDL shows up on screen and I was quite happy he did. He was good at the press conference until he started to sing. His talk-sing was...awful. I don't know whether or not to blame the structure of the song or the fact that his Italian accent was doing no good for the song. For once, he's over rehearsed for a part.

However, once he's done singing, we are then formally introduced to Penelope Cruz's character. I have to say she was incredibly fun and lovely as the neurotic crazy mistress. Her song was sexy and wonderful (aside from the botched up pronunciation)and the screen instantly lighted up when she's on screen. The crowd adored her esp. the "With my legs open" quip.

After Penelope, Judi Dench was quite hilarious and wonderful in her role. She has perfect chemistry with DDL and it translated well on the screen. Unlike you, I found no issue with her song except for the over-the-top French accent she employs in the song which she didn't bother to use in the rest of the movie.

The best part of the movie, of course, is Marion Cotillard. There are two major reasons why she's fantastic: one, she can sing and her voice shows emotion and vulnerability when the lyrics call for it like in "My Husband Makes Movies" where she thinks about the time when she and her husband just met. Then, she ends the song with the melancholic acceptance of what her husband does. Then, her song "Take It All" was so emotional because it showed in her eyes. Second, despite pronouncing some words weirdly, she brought the true emotional strength of the movie through her line deliveries and her expressive eyes. The scene in the room where she says "Blah Blah Blah" was quite good while the scene at the screen test was a strong emotional one and it's all thanks to Cotillard.

Without either Cotillard or Cruz, the movie flounders. Kidman was good at being herself--a huge megastar but her song seemed like it didn't fit into the movie well. Fergie was just a musical cameo (but a cameo worth watching over and over), Sophia Loren was...just a glorified cameo with a stupid boring song that put my sister's boyfriend to sleep (I guess it did the trick as a lullaby), and Kate Hudson was just not exciting. Her song was the most horrible of the horrible songs and doesn't deserve any of the awards notices that it keeps getting.

Overall, the film, I thought, is all flash but little to no substance. I guess it was my fault because I came in expecting to see a Chicago but ended up with a HSM in terms of quality only HSM was more enjoyable.

Marion Cotillard should get nominated and so should Cruz. If I have to pick 1, obviously, it'll be Marion. If any song should be picked, it should be Take It All.
I'll give it a C at the most.

RJ said...

Just saw this, and I have to say, I was not a fan. There were a couple of great numbers, but I found a lot of the movie to be tedious. I think I can see this story working on the stage, but this is a little too simple a story to be played this flashy. It's a bit like Ryan's Daughter---the bells and whistles drown everything out.

Got to agree about Cotillard, though. She KILLS IT.

Unknown said...

Even while I was enjoying the numbers I found myself still resenting Marshall's status as THE go to man for film musicals, especially since he doesn't seem to fully trust the form. He employs, again, the overly literal notion/gimmick that musical numbers must take place in the imagination because people don't sing in real life.

Yes, this is exactly how I feel about Rob Marshall and I'm happy that someone else gets the same impression. That was my problem with Chicago, and he did the exact same thing with Nine, only I felt it worked better in Nine because he used it to highlight the clear objectification of women by Guido.

I am a musical theatre purist, but I enjoyed the movie a lot more than the reviews suggested I would. It was a relief to read your insightful post which seemed to articulate all the disparate opinions I had about the film. I am definitely bookmarking your blog.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Never thought I'd forgive Cotillard for winning Julie Christie's Oscar, but after she won the San Diego Best Actress prize and I read Nathaniel's review, I was intrigued to see her in this, despite the critical backlash and audience apathy towards the film. Cotillard's definitely the real deal in Nine, pulling off the difficult task of appearing completely real, especially in her musical numbers (when this woman bursts into song, Cotillard’s so emotionally compelling you simply accept it as a character trait).

As for her Best Actress campaign, it brought to mind Eleanor Parker’s Best Actress nod for Detective Story. Parker’s only in the movie about 20 minutes, while Supporting Actress nominee Lee Grant stays in that police station forever, but Parker’s so gripping in her highly dramatic scenes, it’s easy to see how she was rewarded as a lead. Cotillard’s impact in Nine is substantial enough that I wouldn’t mind seeing her on the Best Actress shortlist, although with the film sinking like a stone, it probably won’t happen. Whatever category you place her in, I think viewing a performance of this quality is rare, and deserves some attention. For me, Cotillard’s work was the most resonant factor in the film- if the film ever develops a cult status, her performance will have a lot to do with it.

vg21 said...

Great review! And written so long ago :). Still, I am one of the fans of the musical, I loved the music, all the way through. The choreography of Be Italian! is fascinating, it is breathtaking and Fergie really delivers the song. I also liked Cinema Italiano, very-very much. Marion Cotillard is phenomenal, and although I can understand why others are so upset about the flaws of the film, I just had the feeling I want to see it again, and then it must be good, I guess:). It's like humming the notes leaving the cinema, which I also did:).

Nathaniel, I am sooooo happy about what you wrote about the plot, I totally agree with you on that. Why are movie critics so conservative about these things? It's a self-referential feature, so typical nowadays. I also didn't understand why everybody was so excited to smash Nine completely. It was not that bad at all.