As someone who had major problems with Rob Marshall’s Chicago—which robbed the Broadway show of all its humor and rendered its dance numbers unwatchable through egg-beater editing—I did not expect to like Nine, Marshall’s ambitious adaptation of the 1982 stage musical inspired by Federico Fellini’s 8½. Imagine my surprise, then, as I tell you I loved it.
I’ve already heard complaints about the picture from other quarters, which I won’t enumerate here, but I bought into it one hundred percent. It begins with accepting—or embracing—Daniel Day-Lewis as 1960s Italian film director Guido Contini. He makes the transformation so effortless that I couldn’t resist…and it’s a treat to see this great actor portray a character who has light-hearted, even mischievous, moments.
John Myhre’s spectacular production design, Dion Beebe’s sumptuous cinematography, and Colleen Attwood’s costumes all contribute…
to the film’s opulent look and feel, a tribute to the world Fellini created on screen and drew from his fertile imagination. (There are even some shots of the entrance to Rome’s fabled CineCitta Studio, where some of this was shot.) But that’s just a jumping-off point in the late Anthony Minghella and Michael Tolkin’s screenplay, based on the Arthur Kopit-Maury Yeston play. The action revolves around the desperate director’s relationships with the key women in his life, and the film is tailored to be a showcase for its bountiful female stars: Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, singing star Fergie, and Sophia Loren (as Contini’s mother). In fact, three newly-composed Yeston songs were written specifically for the women after they were cast.
Each song has a dramatic raison d’être and an individual look to match: Hudson’s lively “Cinema Italiano” invokes cool 1960s Italian fashion and the black & white look of 8½, while Dench’s “Folies Bergère” celebrates the elegant style of that French show-business institution, and so on. The women are beautiful and sing surprisingly well: Cruz doe a sexy, show-stopping turn, and Cotillard’s passionate “Take It All”—a lament by the director’s long-suffering wife—vividly underscores the dramatic scenes that precede it.
Nine is about passion, deception, and the chaotic circus of making a movie with a “genius” who has apparently run out of ideas. I found it exhilarating entertainment.