a film by Rob Marshall

Anyone with both a love of the films of Fellini, and of the rightfully sanctimonious era of arthouse cinema, and a desire to see cinema taken in dangerous, unexpected tangents would naturally have mixed feelings about what is arguably the Maestro's greatest work being bastardized into a neuvo-musical rendition wherein the likes of Kate Hudson sings and gyrates her way through an almost embarrassing pop-cutsie dance number and Judi Dench does a rather uncomfortable burlesque. This could be an audacious and quite bravura homage to the glamour and sex appeal of the arthouse cinema of the sixties or it could very well be a disaster waiting in the proverbial wings. With an attitude of six of one and a half a dozen of another, this critic and rabid cinephile and film historian entered the hallowed (snicker snicker) halls of the closest multiplex (for arthouse as it may want to be, Nine is pure mainstream Weinstein) and took his seat, third row center, anxiously awaiting whichever fate awaited him. Lo and behold, my reaction was not one of cinephiliac anger at one of his most beloved films being destroyed by an unwise idea and an even unwiser director nor was it a reaction of surprising glee and wondrous dee-light. In the end, my reaction was simply, meh.

In the end, all bally-hooing aside, the film simply is not interesting enough to garner any reaction from either direction. The musical numbers are mostly enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable and no one really stands out (though Marion Cotillard's emotional pair of numbers comes awfully close), nor does anyone stink up the joint (though Hudson and Fergie are right on that edge). Ranging from Hudson's rather laughable, pop-diva go-go number to Penelope Cruz's writhing lap dance-esque exhibitionist gyrations to Fergie's sexual grotesquery, Dench's wannabe bawdy French number and Nicole Kidman's plasticine bon mot that for the life of me was so uninteresting that I cannot recall even one note of it, Nine is nothing but a lackluster attempt at turning 8 1/2 into musical camp a la Bob Fosse. For all I have heard (I have never seen though) the original Broadway production is leaps and bounds over this filmic version. Dumbed down for movie audiences, including turning Hudson's character from a reporter for Cahiers du Cinema to a fashionista for Vogue (can you imagine the typical American moviegoing audience trying to figure out what the Hell Cahiers du Cinema was!?), Rob Marshall's blandish mediocrity never sets the bar very high (and considering the source material, high is where that damned bar should be) so his lack of any directional ability whatsoever should never come into the equation. But then again, to shake a stick or two, it is all his fault.

Of course the idea that Rob Marshall is a director with any sense of style or even direction, is even more laughable than watching Kate Hudson attempt a musical number. Several years after pretty much destroying Fosse's otherwise engaging Chicago (which inexplicably but not really surprisingly won the Best Picture Oscar) Marshall is back to prove that he has probably never even seen a Fellini movie before in his life. The cast is (nearly) impeccable, led by the always brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis (looking more lost here than even his rather lost character warrants) in the Mastroianni role, and showcasing Cotillard as his long suffering wife, Cruz as his spitfire mistress, Kidman as his alabaster muse, Dench as his brusque confidant, Fergie as the beach-born whore of his (obviously) Felliniesque childhood and the great Sophia Loren as mama mia. Oh yeah, and Kate Hudson too, but she is playing a part that is meant to be a shallow twit, so I suppose she does a good job at that. This all brings us back to the fact that Rob Marshall cannot direct a movie to save his life - Oscar or not dammit. In sum, Marshall's inability to capture the feel of Fellini could have been the death knell of the film if it weren't for the superb cast doing their best under such difficult circumstances. So yes, let's blame its mediocrity on Rob Marshall and hope Kidman, Cruz, Dench, Cotillard et al (even the hapless Hudson) get better work when they can. [01/15/10]