Few films have spawned musicals that have gone on to be turned back into movies. One is Nights Of Cabiria, Federico Fellini’s tough but tender tale of a luckless prostitute that inspired Sweet Charity. Another is The Producers, which took the same route from screen to stage and back again.
You’d think Nine, Rob Marshall’s adaptation of a Broadway show based on Fellini’s 8 1/2, would have more in common with the former. But it’s the stage-bound latter this most resembles, Marshall’s Chicago-influenced effort constantly harking back to its Broadway roots.
Given /Nine/ revolves around the art of filmmaking, it’s strange to find it uncinematic. Yes, it does zip around ’60s Italy, jumping from the Cinecitta studios in bustling Rome to the coastal spa resort where blocked auteur Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) flees to seek inspiration. Whenever a number starts, the action shifts to a vacant soundstage, a theatrical dreamspace where Guido is tempted and tormented by the women he’s loved.
It’s the same tactic Marshall used in Chicago to differentiate Renee Zellweger’s real life from her fantasy one. That film had the benefit of far stronger songs than those included here, only one of which – the lusty ‘Be Italian’, performed by Fergie from Black Eyed Peas – is a toe-tapper. But even if the music isn’t particularly memorable it’s a relief to discover Nine’s high-profile cast can all carry a tune. It’s also good to see both Marion Cotillard and Penelope Cruz carve something poignant and true from their roles as Contini’s neglected wife and needy mistress respectively. Less fortunate are Nicole Kidman (rather remote as Guido’s glamorous muse) and Kate Hudson as a vacuous Vogue journalist – though the latter sure has happy feet.
Anthony Minghella worked on the script before his death and may be responsible for its occasional bursts of emotion and pathos. If only there were more filmic flair to bring some style to the substance.
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So-so scoring and the sense you’re watching filmed theatre rather than a movie proper. But whether or not you care about Day-Lewis’ tortured auteur, it’s another magnetic performance, backed by displays of motion and emotion from a bevy of icons.