I can't say that I was in any rush to see this musical from award-winning "Chicago" director Rob Marshall and having now viewed it, I would have been quite happy to wait even longer. Not that it was "bad bad", it certainly has a number of redeeming moments, but it's really not my kind of film, which may be a little surprising considering its provenance. Firstly it is a musical reworking of the great Federico Fellini's "8 1/2" (1963) and secondly the original Broadway book was written by a schoolmate of mine, Arthur Kopit -- a producer here on the rewrite by Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Mingella.
Now I know why the Fellini film was so-titled: he had previously directed six films, two shorts, and had co-directed one movie which made it his eighth and a half outing; I can not really tell you why this movie is called "Nine". Apparently one of the songs from the original show had that title and explained things, but it was dropped here. It could of course refer to nine different women in the life of the stymied film director, Guido Contini, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, as he juggles relationships with his wife, his mistress, his dead mother, his costume-designer and confidante, his muse, the memory of a whore from his childhood, and an American fashion journalist, but only by stretching things to include two very minor roles can one get to the necessary nine. The first seven roles are taken by Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Sophia Loren, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Fergie from Black-eyed Peas, and the always-annoying Kate Hudson. You might think with a powerhouse cast like this that the film couldn't fail, but you would be wrong as most of the parts are sorely undeveloped and only exist to give each of them a seldom-memorable song.
This to my mind one of the film's main failings. For a musical show that has been around since 1982, one would have hoped that one or more of the numbers would have become classics, but no such luck. I think it is the death-knell of a musical film if the songs are not known or instantly catchy, and this may account for the fact that this pricey production only had a worldwide gross of just over 50 million dollars. The money spent is evident both from the film's starry cast and the extravagant staging, although the numbers come across as stage productions rather than as integral parts of a movie. This film is after all meant to be about the creativity of movie-making and this strand is lost to the glossy trappings.
While I have never been wowed by Penelope Cruz's strange face, I do concede that she is one very sexy lady and her bosom and crotch are erotically displayed in one of the showier numbers. However I'll be double-dipped if anyone can tell me why this role should have earned her a best supporting actress Academy Award nomination. If any of the cast so deserved to be singled out, that accolade should have gone to Cotillard as she begins to realise that her marriage to the self-absorbed director is a sham. Dench is also good value here and adds a certain class to the proceedings, as does Fergie in her production number which is meant to remind us of the director's youth -- very Fellini-esque that. It's good to see Loren -- very, very carefully lit, but Kidman and Hudson are something of a waste of time. As for Day-Lewis with his careful Italian accent, he is more tolerable here than he has been in some of his more immersed movie characters, but he will never surpass Marcello Mastroianni in the same role in my affections.
I wouldn't go so far as to damn this as a parson's-egg movie, since there are some good intentions on view. It's just a pity that these don't hang together in a more cinematic whole.