The countless dancing stars of Nine do not miss a step, but the movie does.
This Hollywood adaptation of a Broadway musical version of the 1963 Federico Fellini film 8 ½ never makes the leap from dancing showcase to fully formed film. It’s like a big-time variety show, with Daniel Day-Lewis as the oddly selected host.
Day-Lewis plays Guido Contini, a famous film director in 1960s Italy who is suffering from writer’s block. The many, many women in his life come forward, one by one, to offer intricately choreographed inspiration, but Contini just can’t shake his case of the artistic blahs.
If I’m downplaying Nine’s emotional resonance, that’s because the movie does, as well. Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha) is more concerned with technical things: confetti that drops just so, costumes that hang just right, dancers who hit their precisely defined marks.
That they do. Aside from Kate Hudson’s unfortunate runway number – in which she declares, “Style is the new content,” as if the movie hadn’t been telling us that from its first frame – Nine is one long display of song-and-dance professionalism. Especially impressive are Marion Cotillard, who has a smoky soulfulness as Contini’s wife, and Penelope Cruz, whose showgirl number as Contini’s mistress would make Adam Lambert blush.
Yet as technically accomplished as these pieces are, they’re hardly cinematic. Nearly every time a musical number breaks out – which is often – Nine finds itself back on a run-of-the-mill soundstage. Even a promising, black-and-white sequence that begins on a beach with Stacy Ferguson (Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas) retreats to that same stage.
Marshall’s Oscar-winning Chicago was equally confined, but it had its Jazz Age story to prop it up. Nine leans heavily on its talented cast, but even they can’t make up for the movie’s own case of writer’s block.