Get your facts straight, big-name critics: Nine is a revision of the stage musical, not a remake of Fellini’s 8 1/2.There’s a difference.
Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) has wedded a metaphorical-verbal medium, theater, with a realistic-visual medium like film. He’s not cheapening Fellini; he’s enriching the movie musical.
Nine is about a man trying to make a movie while juggling the demands of his own unsatisfiable appetites, guilt, and sense of entitlement — not to mention the women in his life. Guido Contini (Daniel Day Lewis) is surrounded by seven women, each one of them yearning to sing to Guido — wife, mistress, mother, whore, confidante, fan, muse.
Not all the famous actresses can sing; neither can Day Lewis. As the mother, for example, Sophia Loren woodenly talk-sings; as the blonde bombshell muse, Nicole Kidman is saddled with some of composer/lyricist Maury Yeston’s flattest, tell-don’t-show lyrics. At least Day Lewis’s acting is divine (with his brooding style well suited to a character who’s neurotically self-focused).
And if you can’t stand those break-out-into-song moments in musicals, Nine offers a master class in how to motivate them, with Marshall keeping “the moves between reality and surreality and memory” — as he says in the commentary — “as seamless as possible... so that you’re in a musical scene before you know it.”
For example, Marshall’s sometimes maligned rock-video editing intercuts Guido at a business meeting with flashes of his wife singing about her resentments.
Eight featurettes, mostly self-congratulatory, comprise the extras. The two best focus on the choreography: the tons of sand swirled high by tambourines in “Be Italian”; the go-go gyrations of Kate Hudson’s tribute to ’60s style in “Cinema Italiano”; the sex-kitten ropes that blodied Penelope Cruz’s hands in “A Call From the Vatican.”
Years from now, when movie lovers notice that The Blind Side was nominated for Best Picture and Nine wasn’t, they will laugh in disbelief. One’s formula; the other breaks it. And Fellini’s masterpiece abides unharmed, while Marshall’s razzle-dazzle re-envisioning of the stage musical stands successfully on its own. (Rated PG-13)