I’ve been back and forth over the past couple months between anticipating Nine and being scared of it. Now that I’ve seen it, I understand why I felt that way. The movie is simply okay with its big production numbers being the best thing going for it. The story is there, but its execution is week. Most of all, having seen the outstanding 2003 Broadway revival it’s impossible not to compare this movie to that theatrical event.
As Will and I were discussing the film, he pointed out that it’s difficult to make a mid-life crisis interesting to anyone except the person going through it. That’s certainly an issue here. I didn’t find Daniel Day-Lewis’ Guido very likable at all as opposed to a sympathetic Guido that Antonio Banderas played on stage. Which leads to the biggest question for me, was Antonio not available for the film? Did director Rob Marshall chose not to cast the guy that was nominated for a Tony for the role who also happens to be bankable at the box office?
The women in the film, while all delivering fine performances also fail to live up to their Broadway counterparts. Judi Dench is simply no Chita Rivera in the role of the costumer. Penelope Cruz, while doing a solid job on the steamy “A Call from the Vatican” number, pales to the Tony winning turn that Jane Krakowski delivered. Nicole Kidman, who proved herself to be capable of musical performance in Moulin Rouge is good, but she’s stuck in a role that’s paired down from the role Laura Benanti played on stage.
In fact, there’s a lot of pairing down from the stage version. Most of Gudio’s songs have been cut from the film. I was especially sad to see “The Bells of St. Sebastian” axed becuase it gives a lot of Guido’s backstory to explain why he’s ended up the way he is. Now that’s left in a void and it’s part of the reason Day-Lewis’ Guido is not sympathetic. Also oddly missing is the show’s title number, which is sung by Guido’s mother. Sophia Lauren was quite serviceable in her talk-singing style so it’s surprising this was removed. Another disappointing cut is “Be On Your Own,” the song Luisa sings as she’s leaving Guido. In it’s place is a lackluster new number written for the movie called “Take It All,” which was my least favorite production number in the film.
Marshall did a fantastic job of taking the very theatrical Chicago and making a successful translation to a cinematic style. He seemed to try for the same methodology here—making the songs either in one person’s head (in this case Guido’s) or giving them a very practical reason to be sung in the real world. It didn’t work as well for Nine. I felt like I was watching the finale of All That Jazz for two hours. If you recall in Jazz, Roy Scheider talks to an “angel” on and off for most of the film and then his death scene is played out on Ben Vereen’s variety show. There’s something about all the production numbers and the overall feel of the film that made me think that this Nine was a pale imitation of what Bob Fosee did brilliantly with All That Jazz.
I mentioned up top that the production numbers shine in this film. Marshall got these right, but then again he knows how to stage musicals too. Fergie steals the show with an incredible “Be Italian.” It was by far my favorite scene in the entire film. While Judi is no Chita, Judi is awesome in “Folies Bergeres.” Nicole doesn’t get a splashy number with “Unusual Way,” but she sings it well. Penelope’s seductive number is a lot of fun. The opening sequence is also quite good and, unfortunately, it set a high bar that the film overall didn’t live up to.
It’ll be interesting to see how this movie fares against the other musicals that have come out since Chicago. I don’t think this movie will capture the audience in the same way that did in 2002. Hopefully Nine won’t damage the return of the movie musical we’ve witnessed in the past few years.