SINCE THIS IS A REVIEW THERE ARE PROBABLY SPOILERS!!!
The show “Nine” first appeared on Broadway in 1982, but the composer, Maury Yeston, started composing the music in 1973 as a part of the Lehman Engel’s BMI Musical Theatre Workshop. Yeston describes the workshop as one that “was designed primarily as a symposium for writers of theatre songs. Composers-lyricists were urged to adapt pieces that could allow expansion of plot, character, and place, since musicals often flourish from the need to change, enlarge, and re-order the works that inspire them.” Yeston looked to Fellini’s incredible film “8 ½” as his inspiration.
Understanding the source of the music, it is easier to understand why certain songs in the show feel a little oddly placed, as they were apparently written before the actual book/script had been formed. As a result, some of the songs simply do not feel like organic, and instead feel like they are added for no other reason than the fact that they were written when the show was only a concept.
The movie “Nine” does a good job of editing out many of these songs, but the new songs which are added seem to be worse than the ones they removed. In addition, the numerous changes to the script/plot do not help make the show more interesting, rather they actually make it more boring. I never felt the original plot to “Nine” was particularly strong, but I did feel it was charming. A more modern Casanova tale where a man is juggling so many women that he eventually loses them all is entertaining, and the show was an excellent vehicle for women, as each character has a big song and dance to give before the final curtain. Rob Marshall’s film only makes one woman stand out, and it is frighteningly enough Stacy Ferguson, better known as Fergie, who gives a performance which is so incredible that the audience, me included, actually applauded at the end. I have to admit, I didn’t really think Fergie was ever worthy of public attention, but this film has certainly made me a fan. Her voice, choreography, and acting truly embody the idea of her character, and it was very clear that, although she made it look easy, Fergie worked very hard to make her 5 minutes of screen time the best 5 minutes in the entire film.
This is not to say that the other women in the film are bad, no one is truly bad, they are simply either boring or unimpressive. Nicole Kidman’s performance is lovely, and it is a little funny that her character is rejecting being cast in the role that she always plays. I felt that Nicole Kidman truly connected with her character, and the rather extreme key change to a much lower register for her song made it both sexier and easier to understand. The problem is, Kidman is barely on screen, and therefore what little work she does seems rather unimportant. I find it odd that Marshall went this route, as Kidman’s character in the play is much larger, and in this respect I wonder why he strayed from the script if he was not going offer anything more interesting. Kidman’s exit is not big enough, so there is no reason the audience feels they should care about her. One wonders why she arrived and sang in the first place.
Penelope Cruz as Carla was an excellent choice, as Cruz has made a career out of playing love crazed foreigners. Unfortunately, despite Cruz giving a rather good performance in her seduction song “A Call From the Vatican” it is not as impressive as Jane Krakowski’s version. Cruz certainly has help from musical engineering, pitch correction etc., whereas Krakowski was able to sing the same without help, include humor as well as seduction, and actually end up upside down to boot. Since Cruz did not having the burden of singing live, I expected more, but was given less.
Judi Dench does a fine job of singing “Folies Bergeres” and her somewhat seductive costume is impressively donned by the Dame. Unfortunately, Dench is not really able to pull of being French. So her performance, while good overall, is somewhat confusing due to the fact she doesn’t seem to be the Frenchwoman she is supposed to be.
Kate Hudson sings and plays her part fine. The criticism that it is a bit superficial and hollow is kind of dumb, because that is what she is singing about and is relevant to the character she is playing. To that end, Kate Hudson does great, but it is hard to applaud someone for acting like a vapid superficial person, no matter how well they do it.
Sophia Loren doesn’t actually sing the song “Nine”, but does sing. She gives a performance which is nice to watch, but the changes in the script seem weaken the importance of her character a great deal.
And finally, there is Marion Cotillard, who does a fine job, but could have done better. Cotillard truly gets the audiences attention, and is probably the only person in the show who keeps it. Cotillard plays Luisa, the wife of Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis), who is trying to figure out whether or not she can continue to love a man who runs around with his mistress and promises to change but never does. Cotillard’s first song is captivating, and although I prefer Mary Stuart Masterson’s version, Cotillard’s version is equally touching. Marshall’s changes to the script make Guido’s betrayal of Luisa even more painful to watch (a woman actually gasped in the theatre when it happened), but takes Luisa to a completely different place. Instead of finally being the one woman who fights back (in the song Be On Your Own), she self-destructs instead. Both point out that what Guido does to women is intolerable, but self destruction does not seem to work as well. In addition, Luisa seems to recover too well, too fast, and potentially forgive too easily.
Daniel Day-Lewis is fine, but is not overly impressive. His singing is adequate, and he manages to sing an incredible final note in his first song (which makes one wonder why he doesn’t sing much in the film). The problem is, what little plot “Nine” had, is weakened by all of the changes in the film, and as a leading man who is barely ever off screen, it is hard not to blame him for the fact the movie feels long and boring in spots. I don’t think it is so much his fault as it is the director, but it is hard not to blame him. Thus I found his performance merely adequate.
Rob Marshall’s film is not a bad one, it is simply a film with wonderful moments and a lot of time in between. Marshall’s eye for gorgeous aesthetics is still present, and I would say that the film looks good from beginning to end. I would recommend seeing it, but not having high expectations. The best reason to go is to experience Fergie’s incredible performance on a big screen with wonderful sound. That should tell you whether or not you want to see this film.
If anyone is interested in the real plot I’d be happy to share I reread my copy of the script before writing this review