Okay, full disclosure: I can’t stand musicals. Most of them, anyway. Give me something that strays from the ordinary-Moulin Rouge!, the South Park movie-and I just might enjoy it, but for the most part, musicals fall flat. In fact, musicals are far more delusional and far-fetched than most science fiction films. Think about it: how often, in real life, does a person just randomly break into song and dance? The whole thing baffles me, I’ve never understood it. Are the characters in musicals singing in their real life… as their character? In the story? I just don’t have the patience for it, I suppose.
That’s why a movie, albeit a musical, like Nine is a great, refreshing taste of a wasted genre. Here’s why it works: the whole movie is told through the point of view of one man. All the musical numbers are purely in his imagination. The performances aren’t happening in “real life”, they’re in his subconscious. I’ve rarely seen that done in a movie before.
Based on a stage play that was itself based on Federico Fellini’s classic film 8 ½, the story is simple: Italian film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis, who did indeed learn Italian for the role), struggles to come up with an idea for his new, much-hyped film, while juggling the many women in his life. There’s his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penelope Cruz), his muse (Nicole Kidman), his confidant (Judi Dench), his whore (Fergie), his mother (Sophia Loren), and the reporter trying to get it all (Kate Hudson). But here’s the kicker: most of these women never meet each other, expect in Guido’s musical fantasies (his mother, for instance, is dead).
Jesus, what a cast (18 Oscar nominations and 7 wins among them). If there’s a musical standout it’s Kate Hudson (yes, I just said ‘standout’ and ‘Kate Hudson’ in the same sentence), but it’s true. Watching and listening to her sing ‘Cinema Italiano’ is a true delight. I had heard that Hudson could sing and dance, and bless director Rob Marshall for giving her the chance. In easily her best role since Almost Famous, maybe it’s time Hudson woke up: ditch the cookie cutter romantic comedies and start testing yourself.
While Hudson is the musical standout, it’s Marion Cotillard who steals the show. I’ve only seen Cotillard in three films: La vie en Rose, which she justly won the Best Actress Oscar, Public Enemies, which she stole scenes from Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, and Nine, where she, almost literally, lights the film on fire. Her classical, stunning beauty is enough to knock you off your feet, but her raw, emotional acting talent is enough to impress the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis. Cotillard has a long film acting career ahead of her. Look out for her in Christopher Nolan’s new flick Inception in July.
The rest of the cast, led by the always remarkable Day-Lewis, are extraordinary. Props to all of them for doing their own singing. Most of you know Rob Marshall as the director of that completely over-hyped, Best Picture-winning film Chicago. So let me put it this way: if you liked Chicago you’ll like Nine, and if you hated Chicago you’ll really like Nine. Take it from me, a guy who can’t stand musicals. Action.
Note: this film deserves two grades, Day-Lewis and Cotillard A+, the rest of the film A-.