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Stars May Shine, But Nine Still Suffers from Sensory Overload

  • Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2009 12 Dec
  • COMMENTS
Stars May Shine, But <i>Nine</i> Still Suffers from Sensory Overload

DVD Release Date:  May 4, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  December 18, 2009 (limited) December 25, 2009 (wide)
Rating:  PG-13 (for sexual content and smoking)
Genre:  Musical
Run Time:  117 min.
Director:  Rob Marshall
Actors:  Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren, Stacy Ferguson

Truth be told, there are some fairly significant revelations in the stage-to-movie adaptation of the Broadway hit musical Nine.  

For one, who knew that rom-com queen Kate Hudson has a pretty terrific singing voice? Or that Daniel Day-Lewis, who's always moonlighting as Mr. Serious Actor, possesses enough believable (and appealing) swagger to serve as the object of so many beautiful women's affections? Even Stacy Ferguson, better known as Fergie from The Black Eyed Peas, shows some considerable range (acting, singing and otherwise) in the film's most unappealing role, the chubby call girl who's clearly past her prime.

But for every one of Nine's more revelatory discoveries, there's a plethora of missed opportunities. Even with five Oscar-winning actresses (Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench and Sophia Loren, who still looks amazing, even at 75) delivering fantastic performances without really having that much to work with, Nine may have the star wattage, but ultimately does little in the way of actually illuminating the audience. 

For whatever reason, director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha) failed to offer any compelling reasons for why anyone should bother caring about Guido Contini (Day-Lewis) or whether the movie he's struggling to write is ever made.

Part of the problem is that most of the story takes place in Guido's imagination. While "Maestro" (as he's annoyingly called time and again) just happens to be a movie director, meaning the visuals he'd dream up would definitely supercede the average person's, the way that Marshall splices the musical segments with the melodrama together never jells. 

It's practically Chinese water torture with a bit of drama here, a random song there, drama, song, still more drama, and yep, you guessed it, another song. Each actress, save for Cotillard, gets only one moment in the spotlight, so they've got to squeeze them all in there, which is exactly what it feels like when you're watching:  rushed.

Simply put, Marshall's frustrating direction leads to a disjointed and shallow final product that doesn't allow anyone much of a chance to get really invested in these characters. And considering that all of the big names, save for Day-Lewis, just make a glorified cameo anyway, well, there's no opportunity to really love or hate any of them. 

All we know is that Guido is having trouble juggling all the women in his life and it's beginning to get the creative best of him, whether it's his saintly mother (Loren), dazzling muse (Kidman), longsuffering wife (Cotillard), saucy mistress (Cruz), the tell-it-like-it-is-and-pull-no-punches costume designer/therapist (Dench), his beautiful blonde crush (Hudson) or the target of his pre-teen lust who reappears for no particular reason (Ferguson).

Then adding the proverbial insult to injury is that not one of the movie's songs are show-stoppers either, a must for a musical to truly work. 

Listen carefully, and you'll discover how downright silly these lyrics are, and not in an intentionally comic way. While the actors all have the vocal chops to handle the material (especially Hudson and Kidman, who's improved considerably since 2001's Moulin Rouge), the songs just don't do them justice. 

Sure, the soundtracks to most musicals have that certain cheese factor, but these tracks are the whole fondue, whether it's the wife scorned, Luisa, singing the insipid "My Husband Makes Movies" or Hudson, who plays the flirtatious fashion journalist, belting out "Cinema Italiano."

And given Marshall's apparent love of opulent, eye-popping accompanying visuals, basically favoring flash over substance, it's almost as if he hopes that distracting the viewer with enough sensory overload will prevent him/her from realizing how ridiculous this all is.

While the sparkly costumes and showy set pieces may be enough to fool a few people, however, I'm guessing the majority of  people may feel a little like I did when Nine's credits rolled…Hmmm, that was cool, but that's it?

Yeah, that sounds a lot like showbiz, huh?

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Social drinking plus cigarette smoking throughout.
  • Language/Profanity:  Compared to many PG-13 films, "Nine" is pretty light on bad language. There are a couple of unsavory words, plus the occasional declaration of "Oh my G—!" 
  • Sex/Nudity:  Guido isn't exactly shy about his extramarital dalliances, even his wife knows about his mistress, Carla (but doesn't necessarily accept the relationship). Guido and Carla are later shown in bed in a couple of scenes, and it's implied that they have sex, although nothing more than foreplay is shown. During her song, Carla's performance is highly sexualized with her breasts nearly spilling out of her costume, provocative song lyrics and racy dance moves. Later on, one of Guido's childhood fantasies plays out in his mind when his younger self is ogling a plump prostitute who's moving suggestively near a beach.
  • Violence:  None.

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.