1960s Italy. Once-celebrated film director Guido Contini (Day-Lewis) struggles with his unwritten script for his comeback film. Looking for inspiration, he turns to his mistress (Cruz), his wife (Cotillard), his muse (Kidman), his confidante (Dench) and his childhood memories to solve his crisis, with unsuccessful yet well-sung results.
After making the Oscar-winning, $300-million-making Chicago in 2002 and following up with the not-quite-so-popular Memoirs Of A Geisha, it perhaps comes as no surprise that Rob Marshall has returned to his musical wheelhouse for Nine, a 1982 Tony award-winning musical based on Federico Fellini’s Euro classic 8 1/2. As if to counter-balance the esoteric subject matter Marshal has assembled a stellar cast, seemingly designed to make poster designers scratch their heads trying to fit all the huge names in.
And, as you might expect, they all turn in excellent performances. Yes, Daniel Day-Lewis can sing, and dance, and even speak Italian (show-off), Kate Hudson is one hell of a dancer, Penelope Cruz can move in ways you never thought decent in a musical, Judi Dench can pull off a good tune, and Fergie (the Black Eyed Pea rather than the Duchess) absolutely nails the musical’s one guaranteed foot stomper, Be Italian. Oh, and Nicole Kidman can sing, but you knew that already.
But in amongst these first-rate turns there shines an even sparklier star in the form of Marion Cotillard, playing alienated wife Luisa to Day-Lewis’s charismatic yet uninspired film director, Guido. Enchanting and saddening in equal measure, Cotillard gracefully steals the show from under everyone’s noses, masterfully delivering the other two big numbers, the eye-watering ‘My Husband Makes Movies’ and the uncompromising belter Take It All.
Hudson’s Cinema Italiano also deserves a mention for injecting some pep into an otherwise sombre series of show tunes, brightening up the introspective mood that pervades as Guido falls out with his wife, mistress (Cruz) and muse (Kidman) in quick succession. Mid-life crises don’t lead to happy tunes, and adult themes of lust, infidelity, sexual maturity and the purpose of existence may leave the Mamma Mia! crowd somewhat perplexed.
Shooting and cutting his numbers like a dervish, Marshall undeniably has a gift in taking musical newcomers and making them shine. Yet his grip falters in its ambitious Fellini-esque time-shifting structure, the film awkwardly juggling black and white snapshots from Guido’s childhood with colourful musical numbers set on a huge stage.
Still, there’s tons to enjoy — the cool of ‘60s Rome is gorgeously evoked — and its desire to take the musical into different, more complex areas is to be applauded. And if it spawns further musical-art house crossovers — The Lives Of Others On Ice. Let The Right One Sing — then all the better.
Though slightly marred by a clunky structure and a lack of truly catchy tunes, Nines wall-to-wall first-rate performances from its stellar cast (especially Cotillard) add a touch of class.