If I am honest, I will tell you that I do not love all of Fellini's films. I am not crazy about Amarcord, really, and I couldn't really get into 8 1/2 even though it has some very cool stuff in it.
I have decided, however, that I do not like Rob Marshall's films. This evening I saw the newest one, Nine, and I was... well... in a word: bored.
And now, nine thoughts on Nine, because it seems fitting:
1. Rob Marshall is known for making musicals. He made the Best-picture-winning Chicago, which supposedly rehabilitated the movie musical. And yet, both that movie and his newest star-studded musical, are constantly apologizing for being musicals. The man is sold as the best thing to ever happen to the movie musical, but his films appear to wish that they were not musicals. Instead of happening in the stories of his movies, musical numbers in Marshall's films always happen in characters' imaginations. We are forced to leave behind the world of the film and enter into the hyper-make-believe world of the musical itself. So the films actively reinforce the idea that musicalness is phony, that emotions that could only be expressed in song are just too unrealistic to be a part of real life, and yet the film cannot seem to make the "real-life" scenes as realistic or as interesting as its musical numbers, and it seems to be ashamed of its stock-in-trade. We all came to see Nine, in fact (or stayed away, as the case may be), because it is a musical. Yet the film constantly tries to make us forget the fact.
2. I know this is cinema. I know that we need movie stars to make people come to the movies. But how about making a movie star out of someone who is also a great singer? The casting in Nine is very clever and very cosmopolitan (Australia, Spain, Italy, Britain, France, and the U.S. are all represented), the actresses are all fabulous. Honestly. But this movie needed singers. Bad. And that goes for Mr. Day-Lewis, as well.
3. Nicole Kidman is my favorite thing in the picture. She is gorgeous and she has a couple of really fabulous scenes where she talks about women in film, fantasy, and basically what it means to be an actress. It's really fascinating. It's intercut with a musical number, which kind of gets in the way, and it's really the first (and only time) where I was sorry there was a musical number to interrupt a real-life scene.
4. Marshall sort of teases the audience with Fellini references. Sometimes these are fun, and sometimes not that interesting. I really wished Nicole Kidman had gotten in the fountain and done an homage to La Dolce Vita.
5. Penélope Cruz is delightful. A great actress. She is engrossing and compelling in all of her scenes. The film isn't really all that interested in her in the end, but I was rather sorry it wasn't.
6. Dion Beebe knows how to light a movie, let me tell you. You probably already knew that, of course, but it bears repeating. The musical sequence after the screening room scene is absolutely extraordinary.
7. You cannot expect a love story to emerge out of nowhere. We are not going to be attached to Contini's wife if all she does is sit around and look sad and miss him and be angry that he missed her birthday. Particularly if the man's mistress is as much fun as Penélope Cruz is in this movie.
8. The best musical number in the film is Fergie's song "Be Italian." It's fun, it's sexy, and there's sand everywhere.
9. What is this movie about? Why is there singing and dancing? Does Contini (the main character) make musical films? Why isn't any of this explained? Is it because he loved the Folies-Bergère as a kid? I don't get it. Nine, more than anything else, is interested in the derrières of its female stars and extras. This is fine, certainly (Fellini was a breast man, of course, but that's just picking nits), but the movie--like the filmmaker the movie is about--cannot decide what its story is. Is it a movie about a man's love for his wife? Is it about his relationship with his mom? Is it a movie about movie-making (8 1/2 certainly was.)? Or is it a movie about buttocks? A movie about buttocks is a good idea, I think, but if Nine is about that, we need to dump all of the other baggage. For a film that seems to understand that female movie stars act as fantasies for male viewers, it spend a lot of time investing in those fantasies.
P.S. The title of this post is out of five.