Just to be clear, my lack of love for the musical form is not arrived at without experience. I've seen a fair number of musicals over the years. To this date, I'm not sure if my parents really believe they're not my cup of tea. Or perhaps they just keep hoping. From early experiences at Annie, The Tap Dance Kid, and Brigadoon to later ones at Cats I learned that I appreciate neither the production nor the home "prep" beforehand that involved listening to the soundtrack album more times than a potential terrorist being softened up for torture. I never could get my head around why people would just suddenly break into song - and such flamboyant ones at that. Yes, there are exceptions. Avenue Q is one. Maybe like zombies adding porn to anything just makes it better. And I did find The Producers tolerable. But that may be the end of the list. [Update (12/11/09): after somewhat implying I may have slandered him a bit with this post my father reminded me I also liked Little Shop of Horrors . Which is true, so maybe I'm up to three then.]
So you can probably see why I was skeptical about Nine - but free tickets on a work night changed my mind enough to get me out the door. I really knew very little going in. Just that it was loosely based on 8 1/2. Now that I've seen it I can report on the basic plot lines. Daniel Day-Lewis stars in the role of Italian super director Guido Contini attempting to make a new film. He'd had a good run, but his last two films had been flops. Tormented by the stress of his constant womanizing he can't quite make a movie, and can't quite get the women out of his head. Though to be fair these are some pretty tough choices he's wrestling with, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, and Nicole Kidman (not to mention assorted other random beautiful women).
In short - even the preternaturally beautiful people and slick hipster Italian set/costume design couldn't get me much above bored. So that's me. The weird thing is though that I suspect that even admirers of the form are going to find quite a few nits to pick. Perhaps including;
- The numbers are fairly cut up into small pieces. I suspect that's partly because it's easier to stage big fancy routines if you only do them a bit at a time. But perhaps equally or more likely because while many of the folks can belt out a tune well, few seemed to be as good as dancers. Seemed to be some working around that, and it's noticeable if you've seen the real deal.
- The songs were not particularly memorable. Before I went I joked that after seeing the trailer I hoped they had a song other than "To Be Italian." Well, turns out there's not a lot likely to be stuck in the head on the way home beyond that. As it's a musical that seems problematic.
- The transitions from music to dialog seemed awkward. It's hard for me to put my finger on exactly why, but it was a far from seamless transition between the two parts. Almost as though there was a prescribed amount of melodrama which would then be followed by some singing - and not necessarily a full song of such in between.
- Character development doesn't tend to be the strong suit of a musical. But after a while, no matter how smooth, beautiful and tortured Daniel Day-Lewis's character seemed it just felt like we were watching the same mannerisms over and over again. One review I read before sitting down to write made an observation along the lines of, he looks great but running one's hands through their hair can only get you so far. That's basically what I was thinking.
The visual style of this film though is impressive. And I'm not just talking about Penélope Cruz (though she does look fantastic). The entire thing has a 60's Italian era of cool look that does make you want to keep your eyes on the screen at all times. But a great look and a few laughs does not necessarily make for a fun time.
Again - I'm the last one to recommend or not a "good musical." And if you like musicals this cast is definitely going to be tempting (or if you don't and like Penelope Cruz - yes there is a theme at work there). I'm not attempting to talk anyone out of seeing the film - I'm actually fairly curious to learn what people who like this sort of thing think about Nine. There's been a lot of buzz about this maybe being a top contender for Best Picture. Now though having watched the film, that would truly surprise me.
After seeing the film I noticed it's MPAA rating was 'PG-13' for "sexual content and smoking." So if you're going to be upset that cool characters who get women by the truckload smoke like chimney's - you might also want to stay away. ;-)