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Returning to his old Broadway stomping grounds, director Rob Marshall brings us his adaptation of the hit musical, Nine.  The film had been in the works for years with a revolving door of directors meant to helm and stars meant to play both the tortured protagonist and his collection of alluring muses/tormentors.  Marshall, who retreated from sight after 2005’s controversial and not very good Memoirs of a Geisha, is treading the same comfortable waters that gave him Oscar-winning success with 2002’s adaptation of another musical, Chicago.  He’s got a knack for bringing Broadway to film which is a rare talent; even rarer to create an adaptation as satisfying and exciting as Nine.

Guido Contini is an unhappy man.  While the whole world waits for the acclaimed Italian director’s next venture, no one is as impatient for it as Guido himself.  Lauded for his art, his style, and putting 1960’s Italy on the cinematic map, Guido’s creative block is one that none of his usual talismans can shake.  Instead of being the inspiration for his art, it’s very likely the coteries of women who surround the lusty director are actually the cause of his artistic impotence.  Guido flees the Cinecittà studio where he creates all the silver screen magic and does a pitiful job of going incognito roughing it in a luxury hotel where everyone from his wife, his mistress, his producer, his confidante/costume designer, the press and a Vatican cardinal track him down.  Flashy production numbers featuring each of the characters that loom large in Guido’s psyche give us glimpses into the mind and soul of this louche libertine and try to pinpoint where all this debauchery began.

Making use of his dazzling cast, Rob Marshall’s Nine sizzles. It’s a celebration of the mystery, sexuality and allure of women and the man’s eternal struggle between lust and love.  Guido has too much vibrant, beautiful flesh at his command to care about such traditional ideas as true love; he’s done the proper thing and married the Madonna-like Luisa and he’s done the faithless, famous director thing and taken up with Carla, his mistress, Claudia, his muse, and pretty much any woman he wants.  It’s clear that nothing to Guido, neither love nor flesh, is as important as getting his movies made, but it isn’t until this creative block occurs that things start blowing up in Guido’s face and even his stalwart ladies begin to wonder where they fit into his life, or if they ever did.

The ladies of Nine are pure spark: As Luisa, Marion Cotillard first glows with the wan, beatific serenity of a wife who knows her husband strays but will always come back to her and put her first - until he doesn’t - then Cotillard is a volcano of pent-up wrongs and injustices aimed at her philandering man.  Playing Guido’s mistress, Carla, Penelope Cruz is going to send many a pair of trousers to the tailor during her sex-drenched musical number, performed in heels, bustier, stockings, and not a lot else.  For all of Carla’s rampaging sexuality, Cruz captures the dichotomy of the woman who is a Supergirl in the sack and awkward, needy and inappropriate out of it.  Watching Cruz, I was reminded of some of Sophia Loren’s sexier moments on film in the 1960’s, when Nine is meant to take place.  It’s odd and somehow touching to see La Loren playing Guido’s mother, who exists now only as a loving, canny-eyed memory.  More vibrant and perfectly cast for her wit that cuts diamonds, Judi Dench actually vamps it up in corsets and feathers as Lilli, Guido’s Parisian costume designer and confidant, who dismisses his frantic anxieties with the most Gallic of shrugs.  Nicole Kidman is luminous, but lacking, drowning in a copy of Anita Ekberg’s La Dolce Vita dress as Guido’s muse, Claudia.  Though she only has one scene, Fergie is a knockout as Saraghina, the local fallen woman, who titillates young boys with life lessons in how to please a woman and live up to their lusty Italian heritage.  Feral, earthy and voracious, her Be Italian number is a highlight.  The surprise in the cast comes from Kate Hudson as Stephanie, a prowling journalist sent to a press conference to ask Guido fluffy questions, but planning on a much more intimate interaction.  Her Cinema Italiano production number stops the show; glammed up in fringey white and silver, Hudson jerks, shimmies and ponies on a catwalk with impeccably suited go-go-boys, all turned out in celebration of the Italian style and fashion that Guido’s films have put on the international map.  Hudson, like the audience, is clearly having a ball and it’s great to see she also inherited mama Goldie Hawn’s groovy, go-go-tastic Laugh-In genes.

As the lone man in the midst of all this overwhelming pulchritude, it would take an actor of Daniel Day-Lewis’ fortitude to hold his own and he does so admirably.  It’s not the deepest rendition I’ve seen from Day-Lewis, but it’s almost a relief that he didn’t necessarily go full Fellini.  Nine is based on iconic Italian director Frederico Fellini’s 8 ½, a visitation into the director’s own psychic world of fantasy and anxiety.  Guido lives in a circus of the absurd over which he is ringmaster and it’s only when the performers stop playing their roles that he is forced to face himself in the center ring.  Day-Lewis captures the eccentric, spoiled nature of Guido without getting too pathetic or pitying.  While never flippant or throwaway, he plays Guido with the élan the entire production is correctly caught up in and it is great to see the actor, so well known for his deeply method portrayals of some scary characters, live it up a bit in these gorgeous production numbers.

Splashy, glitzy, glamourous and all the reasons we go to the movies, Nine is a raucous, sexy time that brings fun and star power back into the cinemas.

Well done.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

December 17th, 2009

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  The Weinstein Company)

 

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