Trey’s Rating: 2 1/2 skinny black ties
I finally watched Rob Marshall’s Nine, based on the Broadway musical inspired by Fellini’s 8 1/2. As a self-described fan of both film and stage musicals, I must confess to having very conflicted feelings about the film – but I will say that, having seen it, most of the reviews that I have read were not entirely fair to the film. I’m still processing my reaction, but I’m going to try and work through/elaborate on my thoughts, both positive and negative, regarding the film.
First things first: This is NOT a remake of 8 1/2. The Broadway show, while based on that film, departs substantially from it. However, this film isn’t really the Broadway show, either. Of the 19 songs in the original score, the film features only 8; in addition, composer Maury Yeston wrote 3 new songs (after all, you can’t film a musical and *not* try and be nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar). There’s nothing especially wrong with adding new songs, but Cinema Italiano is terrible – shot and choreographed like a Britney Spears video, the song looks and sounds out of place in the film, and appears to have been added simply to try and fit one pop number into the score. Kate Hudson performs it well enough, but the lyrics are an unnecessary Cliff’s Notes description of 1960s Italian cinema. Beyond that, the script as filmed is very different from Arthur Kopit’s Broadway script. Events are changes, rearranged, or completely omitted. Characters and their relationships to one another are altered to the point that at times my knowledge of the stage production actually hindered my understanding of the film.
My biggest problem with the film, however, is that Rob Marshall should not have been hired to direct. For some reason Marshall decided to try and film Nine in more or less the same way that he filmed Chicago. Unfortunately for Marshall and for audiences, Nine is not nearly as jazzy or upbeat as Marshall’s previous musical. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that simply having the female cast members slink around in lingerie does not do the material justice. Also, Marshall reuses the technique of having the musical numbers take place in their own abstract space separate from the “reality” of the film (this time it’s a sound stage instead of Chicago‘s jazz club). I guess this conceit is becoming something of a Rob Marshall trademark, although before it was Marshall’s idea it was Bob Fosse’s idea. In any case, it doesn’t really work this time. Part of this is due to bad editing decisions – the film cuts from the abstract musical space to “reality,” (and vice versa) at times that are incredibly distracting and jarring – such as in the middle of a verse. The one number where this really works is “A Call from the Vatican,” in which the abstract space could be Guido’s mental image of Carla as she speaks to him over the phone. For the film as a whole, however, the conceit simply doesn’t work. In fact, it would be a lot more interesting (and true to the spirit of the stage production) to allow reality and fantasy to blend together and flow seamlessly. I like to think that part of Guido’s problem is that he cannot see where the reality stops and the fantasy begins. This would allow for Guido to be more of an active participant in his flashbacks (as in the stage production) – giving them greater impact and helping to explain their significance to the audience.
I hate to keep harping on how different it is from the stage production, because typically I prefer to see movie musicals and stage musicals as two very different animals. In this case, however, Rob Marshall and his writers took a production that was already cinematic, and through their edits and changes they created something that is not 8 1/2 or Nine, but something of an homage to both. Unfortunately, the homage never really extends beyond the superficial, and becomes mired in the director’s limited range as a director of musicals. The film is worth a rental, because the cast – especially Daniel Day-Lewis, Judy Dench, and Marion Cotillard – is outstanding, even if the material doesn’t live up to their abilities. If anything, Day-Lewis’s surprisingly good vocals are underused, since all but two of Guido’s songs were omitted from the score. Nine is ultimately a cinematic Catch-22: If you have not seen 8 1/2 or the stage production of Nine, then the film will likely be difficult to grasp; however, fans of Fellini or of the stage musical will ultimately be disappointed in this trimmed down and oversimplified adaptation.
8 1/2 – Original Trailer
Interview with Raul Julia, star of the original Broadway production of Nine
Antonio Banderas and the cast of the 2003 revival of Nine performing at the Tony Awards
© Ralph Lawson III, 2010, All Rights Reserved