Rob Marshall is the king of the big production musical number. He proved it back in 2002 with CHICAGO’s numbers, “They Both Reached for the Gun” and especially “The Cellblock Tango,” and has come back again full force with even more glitz and glamour in his latest musical masterpiece NINE. It is based on the Tony-award winning Broadway play of the same name, which is itself inspired by the Fredercio Fellini film 8 ½. Despite that reference as a jumping off point, which may seem daunting or obscure to the average movie-goer, Marshall frames it in such a way that is not only accessible but incredibly entertaining. Daniel Day Lewis, out of nowhere in a musical, continues his streak of great movies and though he does well as the tortured artist, film director Guido Contini, this movie is all about the women…and oh what women, indeed.
Guido is starting filming of his new film “Italia” in ten days, and the press, his producer, his cast and his crew are all dying to hear about the script. Guido still needs to come up with it, but is tormented by his relationships with the women in his life. He still confides in his deceased mother, played by Sophia Loren, but his main confidant is his costume designer Lilli (Judi Dench). His mistress, Carla (Penelope Cruz), occupies most of his time. His wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard), is at the end of her rope, trying to stay supportive while knowing of his infidelities. A reporter from Vogue, played with surprising verve by Kate Hudson, is hot for his body – almost as a revisiting to her groupie Penny Lane in ALMOST FAMOUS. And his muse, famed actress Claudia Jenssen (Nicole Kidman), is not sympathetic to his inability to come up with a script and also not a fan of being his muse instead of his lover all these years. And with all these women tugging at him, he still has to try to come up with a film worthy of his legend and his hype, and the stress tears at him throughout the film.
Daniel Day Lewis’ first number, “Guido’s Song” made me skeptical of his casting in this musical, but he recovered well with his acting (always beyond reproach) and his last number “I Can’t Make This Movie.” The women, however, are each given their own musical number to introduce themselves and their conflict/motivation to the audience. Dame Judi Dench shocked me with the fervor she presented her tribute to burlesque with the colorful and grand “Folies Bergere” number. Penelope Cruz comes on the scene with the smoldering sexiness of a supernova with her number “A Call from the Vatican.” Marion Cotillard gets both a slow, romantic number and a jazzy, sexy piece with “My Husband Makes Movies” and “Take it All,” respectively. And Nicole Kidman takes it slow with her limited screen time with “Unusual Way.” All of these numbers are seamlessly entered into the story and make us aware that Marshall knows how to bring us back to those wonderful musicals of yesteryear.
His true greatness in this regard, is delivered by the numbers from Fergie and Kate Hudson. These were worth the price of admission alone. Kate Hudson gave us a glimpse of her number in the trailers with her fast and fanciful “Cinema Italiano,” but she really blows the doors off when we get to see the full presentation. But it is Fergie, played in a flashback to young Guido’s first exposure to the beauty that is Woman, who really knocks your socks off, and many other articles of clothing, with her sexy number “Be Italian.” She enters a sultry minx on a shore, performing for the young Guido, then morphs into a stage production with Fergie and other dancers belting out the chorus complete with tambourines they play like the dangerous and sexy sound of a rattlesnake. And when Fergie howls at you to be Itailan…you really want to be. This movie makes you want to be, as well.