Rob Marshall made the Hollywood musical bankable again with 2002’s Chicago, the first hoofer to scoop Best Picture since 1968’s Oliver! With Nine, the director/choreographer may well have put the genre back into mothballs.
Returning $20m on an $80m budget in the US, with no big award-wins to cover its blushes, it fell from hot prospect to non-event movie.
What went wrong? For starters, the story. There isn’t one. Loosely retooling Fellini’s 8½ (via an ’80s Broadway musical), it’s a tale of creative stasis with little forward momentum. Apt, but frustrating.
Fellini solved the problem by daisy-chaining incidents with fluent élan; Marshall plots a more ragged course, jumping disjointedly from ’60s Rome to song-and-dance numbers playing in the head of blocked auteur Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis).
But unlike Marshall’s Memoirs Of A Geisha, the flaws fascinate as much as grate. Day-Lewis grapples manfully with his arguable miscasting. His musical talents and Italian-ness may be questionable, but slouching self-absorption is rarely this watchable.
At best the songs knock it out the park (Fergie’s growly ‘Be Italian’, Marion Cotillard’s Oscar-nommed ‘Take It All’), at worst are merely forgettable. And at best-worst there’s Kate Hudson’s ‘Cinema Italiano’, a tacky toe-tapper that rhymes ‘prism’ with ‘neo-realism’.
Day-Lewis’ leading ladies are an equally mixed bag: Nicole Kidman and Sophia Loren are mere set dressing, Judi Dench does M in a bob, leaving Cotillard to inject emotional razzle-dazzle as Guido’s estranged other half. Without her, Nine might dance, but it wouldn’t sing.
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