Something always felt a bit out of place for me in Martin Scorsese’s brilliant “The King of Comedy”, just released on Blu-ray for the first time. I couldn’t put my finger on it but chalked it up to it being thematically ahead of its time in its investigation of the cult of personality that defines modern entertainment.
Star-Studded ‘Nine’ With Daniel Day-Lewis Delivers Grand Musical Spectacle
CHICAGO – Rob Marshall’s highly anticipated “Nine” isn’t quite the complete piece that it could have been, but its flaws are easy to overlook in favor of the spectacle of old-fashioned, pure entertainment. It is what so many musicals are remembered for being: a series of memorable moments, the toe-tapping sum of which makes a missed beat or two easier to overlook. “Nine” has flaws, but I was too busy humming with the energy of this vibrant, eccentric piece of musical entertainment to really care.
“Nine” is a beautifully made film about both the pitfalls and the benefits of being deemed a creative genius. Loosely based on Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2,” “Nine” tells the tale of the creative crisis of Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), one of the most respected filmmakers in the world. He’s scheduled to start work on his next masterpiece but completely crippled by a creative block.
Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis) agonizes over starting his new film in Guido's Song (musical number), from Nine.
Photo credit: David James and The Weinstein Company
To get the creative juices flowing, Guido begins a journey through song that details the stories of some of the women who have made him such a powerful man. In the opening number, the women who have (or will) serve as Contini’s muses step forward in an elaborate group number on Contini’s Cinecitta set.
The women of “Nine” are clearly archetypes of the women who influence many creative powers - the wife (Marion Cotillard), the mistress (Penelope Cruz), the muse (Nicole Kidman), the mother (Sophia Loren), the friend (Judi Dench), the fling (Kate Hudson), and the teacher (Fergie). We will meet several of these women outside of Guido’s memories, but the construct of the opening number makes clear that the line between reality and fantasy will be blurry at best, with most of the musical numbers taking place on Contini’s set.
Day-Lewis cleverly plays Contini as a self-aware, neurotic mess, as opposed to the sleazy ladies man that a number of lesser actors could have easily turned this character into. He knows what to say to make the ladies swoon, but he’s crippled by his own lack of self-confidence, almost too keenly aware that he’s really nothing without the women in his life.
When writer’s block strikes him, he retreats to the beauty of the seaside and into the arms of the tempestuous Carla (Cruz). Introduced in the sexiest musical number in years (“A Call From the Vatican”), Cruz is typically fantastic, taking a part that could have been nothing but pure sex and shading it with the melancholy of a woman who knows she will never stand next to the man she loves when he walks the red carpet.
Carla (Penélope Cruz) performs A Call From The Vatican (musical number) in Nine.
Photo credit: David James and The Weinstein Company
From here, each woman gets a turn in the spotlight. Judi Dench steps forward for a bit about using sexuality in art called “Folies Bergeres”; Fergie nails arguably the catchiest tune in the piece, “Be Italian,” a flashback number to the woman who taught young Guido about sex; Kate Hudson delivers the Golden Globe-nominated “Cinema Italiano”; Sophia Loren has the maternal flashback number “Guarda la luna”; Nicole Kidman tackles “Unusual Way”. Finally, Marion Cotillard steals the film not once but twice with the two most emotionally resonant numbers in the piece - “My Husband Makes Movies” and “Take It All,” both making heart-breakingly clear what being the wife to a man like Guido Contini has done to her.
Marshall’s decisions to shoot most of the musical numbers on the stage set has divided critics and early viewers of the film. Personally. I think it works to have a film about a man looking for inspiration to fantasize about the women who have inspired him on the set where he spends most of his life and where he hopes a new spark will catch fire. View the set construct as a cop-out and it could deflate the entire film for you but view it thematically and it won’t be such a make-or-break decision.
My only significant problem with “Nine” is the fact that Cotillard and Cruz are the only supporting actresses who really register. Marion and Penelope are both Oscar nomination-worthy and Dench and Fergie are memorable, but Kidman and Hudson in particular feel completely interchangeable with other stars. Kidman doesn’t click in the role of on-camera muse and Hudson’s number is the least effective.
Luckily, the excellent performances by Day-Lewis, Cotillard, and Cruz make complaints about “Nine” easy to overlook. Cotillard does more to elevate her role off the page than anyone in the film and Cruz continues her streak of knockout performances. These three Oscar-winning stars alone make “Nine” worth seeing.
When you think about the spectacle of the old-fashioned Hollywood musical, it’s not an incomplete character or a missed dance step that resonates. It’s the striking musical numbers and the memorable moments that linger. “Nine” lingers.