This past Wednesday, I procrastinated my studying by sitting in the Whitney Humanities Center for five-and-a-half hours straight. In my defense, it was totally a cultural experience. The Yale Film Society screened Federico Fellini’s 1963 postmodern classic, “8 1/2” followed by an advance screening of Rob Marshall’s “Nine,” a screen adaptation of the Tony-winning musical of the same name … which was based on “8 1/2.”
And around and around we go.
To start off with the good, Daniel Day-Lewis is on his way to establishing himself as one of the defining actors of a generation. He reinvents Guido Contini with a charm and subtlety that might even surpass Marcello Mastroianni’s original portrayal in “8 1/2.” “Nine” is a musical, and although Day-Lewis may not have the greatest pipes in the world, he plays the role so convincingly and with so much style that I was willing to forgive. After all, I think Johnny Depp’s performance in Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd” already set a new paradigm for leading men in movie musicals: if you’re cool enough, nobody cares how well you can sing.
The cinematography was brilliant. Marshall and director of photography Dion Beebe contrast the blacks and whites of the original “8 1/2” with a full palate of bright blues and magentas. Marshall and Beebe proved to be masters of light and color in “Chicago,” and they’ve outdone themselves with “Nine.”
The rest of the film is a mixed bag. To run through every major female part (there are a lot), Marion Cotillard’s take on Louisa Contini is soft and fierce, but she is used too little. Penelope Cruz brilliantly plays Clara, Contini’s mistress and one of the film’s ripest sources of comedic relief. Judi Dench is fine as Lilli, a costume designer who fills a kind of “voice of truth” role for Contini, but she is disappointingly superfluous.
Kate Hudson seems dumb, and her role as an American reporter for Vogue is unnecessary. Nicole Kidman shines as Claudia, despite only being in the film for about 10 minutes. Fergie is horribly miscast as Saraghina; she lacks the grotesquery of the original role that made it such an integral part of “8 1/2.” And I don’t really know what Sophia Loren is doing in here as Contini’s mother, but she looks like she’s having a lot of trouble aging gracefully.
The original dilemmas of artistic creation presented in “8 1/2” appear in a simplified and more digestible form in “Nine,” but that’s to be expected. Quite frankly, I’m alright with it. It was a risky move on Marshall’s part to even try to adapt “Nine” to the screen, and while I can’t say that it is a total success, it’s nowhere near the failure I was expecting.
“Nine” hits theaters December 25. Final verdict: Not the best movie of the year, not “Chicago,” but worth seeing.