In 2009 Rob Marshall, who brought the groin-thrusting that classic Broadway hit Chicago was just screaming out for, migrated his groin-thrusting powers to Nine, a musical remake of the Fellini classic 8 1/2. The result is, unsurprisingly, a film where you want to bang every single person on screen from Judi Dench to the super-model background extras.
First things first, comparing Nine to 8½ is entirely pointless. It’s like comparing Anchorman to your little brother’s impression of “I love lamp”; they’re two things that have their own entirely separate fields of merit. Judged by the standards of fellow musicals, Nine certainly ticks the boxes for out-and-out glamour and snappy, sassy musical numbers. The dance routines have enough gyrating and hair flipping to make your head spin and Fergie’s number “Be Italian” empowers women by teaching them that their breasts, among their many powers, can be utilised in the production of music (i.e. as a tambourine Whac-a-mole).
“This is the breast musical ever made. I mean best musical. I mean boobs musical. Damn it.”
Every shot of this film is achingly stylish and beautiful with its endless parade of tailored suits and gorgeous sports cars. This is the lifestyle that the delusional people who buy Vogue think reading an over-priced magazine will achieve; everything and everyone looks so expensive that touching it/them would give you the weird thrill of a social faux-pas. The acting is also pretty faultless. I mean, the film must have sounded pretty legit on paper to have coaxed Daniel Day-Lewis out of his double life of simplicity as Bilbo Baggins of Bag End to do this movie. As per usual, he puts in a great job, thinly treading the lines between comedy and tragedy with his bewildered film director Guido Contini.
“You care as much about the man’s suit as the man wearing it” utters Kate Hudson’s Vogue writer to describe the films of Guido Contini. Guido is suitably horrified: what a terrible thing, to be all style and no substance! But, this is what this movie is. With that one line of dialogue this entire movie has just punched itself in the balls. The dialogue scenes are just a series of inconsequential occurrences bridging the gap between the musical numbers, essentially just a series of women telling our protagonist Guido how great he is, while he himself continues to complain of writer’s block. The scenes seem barely interlinked, giving the feeling that you’re dropping in and out of consciousness while watching it: one moment he’s hallucinating the glamorous film star Claudia (Nicole Kidman), the second moment he’s in a jacuzzi scene with a Cardinal (hot). It flits all over the place with the same indecisiveness as its main character.
I’m not sure who this film is meant to be about. On the one hand it’s Guido’s personal crisis, on the other hand it’s the experiences of the women in his life. The film doesn’t explore any of these avenues but swaps between perspectives so quickly as to leave all the characters as unlikeable caricatures. It’s a film that’s almost frustrating to watch: you just want to tell Guido to stop complaining and get his act together, his long suffering wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard) to find some hobbies, his mistress (Penelope Cruz) to stop slutting it about the place; we’re simply not given enough time to find the motivations behind everyone’s actions so they’re almost impossible to empathise with.
“Dude, I think she likes you.”
Along with shallow plotting and shallow characterisation comes what I guess can be described as shallow scoring. Personal crises and broken marriages aren’t exactly the makings of a hip party (although they do constitute the majority of actual parties), but the musical score apparently didn’t notice, bouncing along like this movie is some quirky comedy set on an Italian vineyard (you know, the ones where the bitter old woman learns to laugh).
If you enjoy the vacuous confusion of perfume ads and wished you could watch one for two hours, then this is the movie for you. Although this verdict sounds damning, perfume ads are certainly not without their merit; this movie is a visual treat. Or if that’s not your cup of tea, you can cross your fingers and pray that someone’s boob will pop out with all that jiggling.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time a woman sings “Guido” in breathy voice
Take a Drink: every time Guido crawls into the foetal position
Take a Drink: every time there’s a randomly inserted Italian word to remind us this is set in Italy, because the Italian accents and multiple shots of Roman monuments just aren’t enough of a giveaway.