Sunday, May 9, 2010

"Who's not wearing any clothes? I'm not!"

When Rob Marshall's Chicago (2002), an adaptation of the jazzy, sassy, and darkly comedic Bob Fosse stage hit, became a ridiculous critical and box office phenomenon, taking home the Best Picture Oscar for that year, it seemed only logical that Marshall and those pesky Weinstein brothers would cash in on it's surprise success.

After the flop Memoirs of A Geisha, Marshall set to work on an adaptation of Nine, a little known, but pretty well regarded little stage musical, based on the classic Italian film 8 1/2. The show, directed by veteran goof ball Tommy Tune (is that his real name?), originally stared Gomez Adams himself, Raul Julia, as Guido Contini, a famous director looking for inspiration for his next film as his wife, mistress (hot flame haired mama Anita Morris!), muse, mother, and producer manage to keep him from his task.

I had seen a good chunk of Nine on stage through bootleg recordings (I'm not ashamed!) and I really quite enjoyed it. When Nine was announced as Marshall's 2nd big screen musical, I have to admit that I was pretty excited. It seemed like it could work and once the cast was lined up and the first teaser trailer debuted, it was abundantly clear that this would be THE movie of the year. Watch that amazing teaser here:

So it was with this intense excitement that I settled down into my comfy theatre seat on December 26th, 2009, waiting to be thrown headfirst into a thunderous, tuneful, bombastic, thrill ride of a movie. And after I saw the film, you may ask? Well, I had just one question...why so serious? I just got the DVD and decided to give it another spin.

Nine is really not the bad movie people are making it out to be. It has enough going for it to make it worth seeing at least once. Nine's problem is that it simply isn't that much fun. 8 1/2 was fun, the stage version was fun, so why does this incarnation feel so damned gloomy?

Another big issue is Marshall's "concept." Yes, boys and girls, he uses the exact same trick he used in Chicago, where all the musical numbers take place in our protagonist's head. Apparently, despite the obscenely astronomical success of High School Musical (kill me now!), Hairspray (loved it!), and Mamma Mia! (Meryl, you should be ASHAMED!), audiences simply can't accept people bursting into song in real time. Marshall's concept worked in Chicago, where Roxie's dreams of being a vaudeville star leant themselves to stagey musical hallucinations, but here it gets boring fast. It's clear to see why Guido is having such a hard time coming up with a new film, because quite frankly, he doesn't have much of an imagination.

All of the musical numbers take place on sound stage with very limited attempts to conceal it. The only number that it works well with is the first, Guido's Song (yes, that's the actual name of this particular tune.) Daniel Day-Lewis, a fantastic actor, possibly one of the best we have working today, seems confused throughout the film. He's dark, brooding, and kind of a sad sack. Sure, I wasn't expecting Marcello Mastroianni tapdancing down the hallway (well, wait, this is a musical, right?), but c'mon!!! The new Gudio mopes around and doesn't even attempt to be charming, which leaves the audience wondering why all of these beautiful, smart women would go near him. I understand that one can't expect every version of the same story to be exactly the same and that one must expect certain things and characters to change with each new version, but sometimes, characters work well just the way they are (Laurie Strode in Rob Zombie's Halloween, anyone?) The way Gudio's character acts is important to the story. He's not just a minor character that you can re-invent however which way you like. It changes the story dynamics completely and not for the better.

The women fair much better. Rarely have any of them looked more radiant. Resembling a young Audrey Hepburn, Marion Cotillard as Guido's wife, Luisa, is the showstopper here, given both a touching ballad and a brassy, belty striptease number to showcase. She's just effortless! Her eyes can tell you everything you need to know. She was totally snubbed from the Oscar race!

Equally wonderful is Penelope Cruz as Carla, Guido's kooky and unstable mistress. Cruz gets perhaps the rangiest role, having to go from perky and sexy to clingy, suicidal basket case. She transitions seamlessly and also gets my personal favorite number of the film, A Call From The Vatican, where she essentially engages in what an only be described as musical phone sex. Yes, it's THAT awesome! Check it out for yourself here:

Judi Dench plays a slightly grumpy, slighty motherly, slightly French (?), totally English costume designer named Lili, who is Guido's confidant. She's good, even funny in parts, but once again, her number makes no sense. She performs it with gusto, but why did we need it again? She gets the pleasure of singing Follies Bergere, a number originally written for Guido's French producer in the stage play. It made sense there! Here, it's tied together with the line "Don't knock the Follies Bergere!" and then all of a sudden, for no reason, absolutely NO reason, we are back in that damn soundstage where Judi's boobies are squeezed together in the world's tightest corset as she starts singing about how much she loves the Follies Bergere. In a French accent! I'm not even kidding!

After that detour, we see Saraghina, the whore from Guido's childhood, who began his whole sexual confusion thing. The number is called "Be Italian" and it's VERY good. Probably the best of the whole film, although I, personally, love Cruz's sultry number. Fergie plays Saraghina and she rocks it. I wish she'd sing stuff like this that actually shows off her voice instead of all that rap stuff.

Kate Hudson shows up for absolutely no reason besides to prove to the world that she can make at least three decent movies (Almost Famous and The Skeleton Key being the others) in a span of ten years. Actually, to be fair, Kate is pretty good in terms of singing and dancing, but I'd enjoy her number more if it and her character figured into the plot for more than 3 minutes (I'm not even kidding, y'all!)

Sophia Loren appears as Gudio's momma and they dance around a bunch of candles as she croaks, literally, croaks out Guarda LaLuna, a decent little ballad. I know Ms. Loren is a legend and all that, but I gotta tell ya that I feared for her during her number. The scene is filled with candles and I was scared that her face would melt. The woman literally looks like a wax figure now.

Anyway, speaking of getting work done, Nicole Kidman sashays her way into the film as Claudia, Gudio's muse. I normally like Kidman a lot, but she has nothing to do here. She walks in with a face full of botox and warbles out the most famous song of the show "Unusual Way." I legitimately felt bad for the poor woman once she opened her mouth. Didn't she used to actually be a pretty decent singer, like in Moulin Rouge? They lower the key of the song, which is written for a soprano, so far down than poor Nicole sounds as if she recently took up chain smoking and drinking before noon. I'm pretty sure her voice could have handled the song in it's original key.

So, Kidman takes off her wig, scurries off after her song and then Luisa tells off Guido in one of the better musical numbers of the film, Take It All. Then Guido laments, singing "I Can't Make This Movie" Gee, Guido, y'ever think that if you just stopped envisioning everything taking place on the same damn set, you could start getting somewhere? C'mon, now!

Gudio eventually makes his damn movie, as we have a gigantic film equivalent of a curtain call as all the women return to model and pose just like in the opening. Is this a movie or a Vogue shoot?
Deep stuff, guys. Real deep.

So, what do I think of the film now? I guess it's okey dokey for a late Friday night, but it's just not the most exciting musical one could watch. Pick up Fosse's All The Jazz instead! It has a similar story and concept, but it's actually done very well. It's a shame, cause 8 1/2 really isn't the worst idea for a musical. That honor will always belong to Legally Blonde.

I give Nine 7 out of 10 musical phone sex calls!!! Work dem ropes, Penelope! 

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