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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Fergie Steals the Show
by Diana Saenger

Most fans of movie musicals adored Rob Marshall's Chicago (2003) and have anxiously awaited the release of Nine, his new film, which is based on the Broadway musical version of the semi-autobiographical Fellini film 8 ½. With its all-star cast, Nine seemed destined to be an immediate success. Yet the movie has received mixed reviews and is not showing up on as many year-end awards lists as expected.

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Guido Contini, an Italian director trying to finish a film but lacking the creative genius he’s known for. Guido believes he has an answer for this problem in his muses: Claudia (Nicole Kidman), Stephanie (Kate Hudson) -- a journalist -- and his full-time mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz), who is married. No matter how many sexual romps he has, however, Guido doesn’t seem to find his resourceful voice -- in fact, these arrangements seem purely sexual trysts. I think this is true, especially since Guido is married to the beautiful Luisa (Marion Cotillard), who knows about his affairs and loves him anyway.

Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) is remarkable as the patient and obviously embarrassed wife. Luisa glows when she shows up at a cast-and-crew dinner and Guido takes her into his arms on the dance floor and says, “I’ve been dying until just now.” Yet later that evening when they are alone in their room, the phone rings and Guido rushes to Carla’s side after hearing she’s tried to kill herself. Cotillard’s touching rendition of “Take It All” speaks volumes about Luisa’s situation.

Cruz gives one her best performances here. As Carla, she’s continually sexy, alluring, insatiably jealous and too tempting for Guido to ignore. However, Kidman and Hudson standout as miscasts in this film. Their singing comes across as mediocre; their roles have no depth or believability, and although their dance scenes might have been enough for some films, Nine required more. They should have been over the top like Fergie, who takes the center spot in a line of the girls with chairs for a Bob Fosse style scene. Singing “Be Italian” Fergie’s demeanor boasts everything Kidman and Hudson lacked. She’s fiercely sexy, alluringly commanding, and delivers every note with bravado. It’s as if the song was written specifically for her.

Two other seasoned actresses play a big part in the film. Sophia Loren portrays Guido’s mother who appears in and out of his imaginary visualizations -- much like Fellini, who said his films always came from his dreams. Loren is a wonderful actress, but this role does not do her justice. It’s been five years since the still beautiful actress has appeared on screen, and seeing her here reminds us of her wonderful talent. Judi Dench plays Lilli, Guido’s costume designer -- a woman who is also his advisor, faux mother and psychiatrist. Dench nails the role of Lilli spouting off advice as if she wrote a book about “How to Guide Guido.”

It’s hard to find anything negative to say about Daniel Day-Lewis. Since witnessing his Oscar-winning performance in last year’s There Will Be Blood, his fans have eagerly awaited Nine. He probably won’t win a Grammy for his singing in this film or be invited on So You Think You Can Dance. Still, Day-Lewis was brave to tackle these endeavors. He holds his own in Nine by creating a believable character.

Dion Beebe, the incredible cinematographer of Nine, made this interesting comment about Day-Lewis’s departure performance in the film:  There’s an intensity to the performance, but there’s also a lightness, a sense of humor and irony. Guido is a man whose world might be collapsing, but his mind is always ready to fly off into fantasy.

Less about a story than a production, Nine is delivered mostly on a set resembling a theatrical stage, and it involves fantasy moments. Plus, remember this film is adapted from the Broadway musical. I found these scenes thrilling in their technical aspects. The lighting mesmerizes, particularly in scenes where the singers enter the set as silhouettes against a blue background with striking artistic accents.

Choreographer and producer John DeLuca had his work cut out for him with this extended cast, but he delivers Broadway-style entertainment. In fact, that sums up my experience watching this  musical. I got a hint -- through scattered dialogue lines spoken by Guido -- of Fellini’s take on making a film. I also enjoyed the movie’s musical aspects as well as watching Day-Lewis, Cotillard and Fergie. Fans of musicals will probably like Nine; others may not be quite so entertained.

(Released by The Weinstein Company and rated “PG-13” for sexual content and smoking.)

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