Well, the ‘Mamma Mia!’ crowd will be a bit surprised. Rob Marshall returns to musicals after bagging a Best Picture Oscar for ‘Chicago’, and the lesser-known Nine is certainly one to prove that there’s more to the genre than Meryl Streep bursting into song on a clifftop and Zac Efron prancing around a high school gym.
Daniel Day-Lewis plays a hugely famous film director Guito about to start work on his ninth movie. The first few were runaway successes (everyone is a fan, from the hotel assistant to the somewhat unorthodox Pope) but the latter couple, in his own words, “were flops”. Wrapped up with stress, exhaustion, and cheating on his once-famous wife, the script fails to materialise and the project is looking less and less like the picture to save his reputation.
Admittedly it’s the source material that lets the movie down. Clever as it may be, the storyline keeps things pretty much on one fairly low level throughout. ‘Nine’ is neither jubilant nor uplifting; and whilst it would be an all-out catastrophe for it to be camped up to ‘Hairspray’ proportions, it definitley could do with a bit more of variation in mood to make it as engaging as ‘Chicago’. The score itself is, unfortunatley, somewhat lacking in memorable tunes - Black Eyed Pea Fergie with ‘Be Italian’ and Kate Hudson with ‘Cinema Italiano’ provide the only real upbeat songs, but the rest are a little samey and/or lacking in punch.
It’s the cast that make ‘Nine’ worth the admission price. Each and every one of them is outstanding. Day-Lewis is, obviously, brilliant; Penelope Cruz is excellent as Guido’s adorable (yet ever so slightly slutty) bit on the side; and Judi Dench gets to have a bit of a song and dance, and is surprisingly good at it. After falling into a bit of a rom-com rut, Hudson also is a delightful surprise as a feisty Vogue journalist, and Fergie makes the most of her little screen-time by navigating her tune with ease. That said, awesome as they all are, they are mere mortals when lined up next to the flawless Marion Cottilard. She won an Oscar for her role in French drama ‘La Vie En Rose’ and it really wouldn’t be surprising if she earnt herself at least another nomination for her performance here. As Day-Lewis’ long-suffering wife she is perfect, both in her acting and in her musical credibility – she is one of only two characters to be allowed two songs, and she’s great at both. If anyone it’s Nicole Kidman who becomes slightly forgettable. She isn’t really prominent until the final half-hour, by which time her emotional teary-eyed ballad is unfortunatley a little difficult to care about.
Ultimatley everything is great about ‘Nine’ as a film, apart from its source material. The music is lacking in ‘wow’ and the narrative is missing more of an arc, but director and cast are amazing with what they have. Marshall’s set-pieces are consistently impressive and his artistic flair is stuck in fifth gear throughout, whilst his cast prove their worth on Hollywood’s A-List with some world class performances. Perhaps it isn’t as “dazzling” as the trailers claim it to be, but for its beautiful cinematography and standout performances it’s definitley worth a few quid to see.