‘Nine’ unoriginal, not worth viewers’ time or money
From horrible casting to awkwardly placed musical numbers and flat characters — not to mention the film’s utter lack of purpose — Rob Marshall’s Nine is a contrived flop of emulation, not so much an homage to as a parody of Fellini’s 8 ½.
If Nine is an homage to anything, it’s to Rob Marshall. It invokes similar, unoriginal themes seen in Chicago such as the influence of the media, glamour and glitz, while having made unwise casting choices as seen in Memoirs of a Geisha and incorporating poor transitions which have become characteristic of Marshall’s films.
Somewhere in the misguided process of adapting Fellini’s classic to play, from play to stage musical, stage musical to what Wikipedia calls “stage musical with book” and finally from stage musical with book to Marshall’s re-adaptation to film, somehow most traces of the original — along with its complexity, poignancy and inventiveness — were lost.
Fellini’s seminal 8 ½ chronicles the creative struggles of semi-autobiographical director Guido Contini’s harried attempts to find the inspiration for his ninth film (the half is for a film co-authored). Despite whatever Fellini’s actual artistic crisis, the managed film manifestation is a cinematic masterpiece. Whether Marshall had a similar crisis in creating Nine, his film gives the impression he’s mired in an un-artistic malaise of indecision and unimaginativeness.
“We’d all like to live in an Italian movie,” says one of the characters. Truth. But given the frenetic cinematography and absence of smooth flow to the film, it’s a good thing this isn’t an Italian movie — the epigram would prove contradictory otherwise.
To that point, perhaps the most surprising aspect of this arrantly, uncreative un-adaptation is the casting. Although the list of actors includes an impressive array of Oscar winners, only one of the principal actors is Italian, Sophia Loren, and her character lacks dimension. Surely Loren was added to allay criticisms of filling roles with ticket-selling Hollywood names instead of actors genuinely befitting characters (not that she fits her character, but at least hers has an Italian name).
It seems Marshall learned nothing from the uproar following the casting of his film (adaptation) of Memoirs of a Geisha, which surged upon notice that most of the actors portraying the Japanese characters were Chinese.
But there is no shortage of Italian actors, let alone Italian-American actors, let alone actors of any sort of Italian who can at least carry a tune. Ever imagine Daniel Day-Lewis belting a musical number? Yet Day-Lewis stars as Contini. It’s not like John Travolta is overbooked with movie projects.
The only other cast member familiar to Italian cinema is Pénelope Cruz, who learned Italian for her role in the 2004 film Non ti muovere.
Interestingly, her performance in Nine as a pill-popping, treacle mistress of Contini seems a reprisal of her role in the Italian film, in which she played a helpless waif and rape victim. Maybe for this reason Cruz’s portrayal in Nine is bland and unbelievable.
It’s not just that these performances are bland. Some of the characters, like Loren’s, are absolutely unnecessary. Why is a busty Dame Judi Dench in Folie Bergère bustiere prancing about a Parisian stage singing in French to a child version of Contini? The story shows that character grew up not in Paris, but in a religious institution in Italy and probably doesn’t speak French, let alone have the means to get to Paris.
In Fellini’s film, an integral character (curiously missing from Marshall’s adaptation) acts as critic, asking Contini about his movie, “What is the meaning of such-and-such?” Apparently, there was no one to ask Marshall such questions. What is the point of Dench’s character and her wildly inappropriate seductress song, both of which, for obvious reasons of consistency, do not appear in 8 ½?
Nine is no clever turn of the original and nothing to provoke further consideration. Its songs are not catchy but derisible, its talented cast forced into overacting or trite objectification so that audiences are left restless and bored.
The extra half isn’t worth it.