I guess every critic worth their salt has to try their hand at reviewing a movie on its first run, after one time having seen it. The grand majority of movies I’ve reviewed so far are ones I’ve seen time and again. Indeed, movies I will have to review going into the distant future at a pace of one a day will be ones I’ve seen before, such as The Matrix and Citizen Kane. I’ve seen Tarantino’s six films more than once a piece, and I’m gonna have all six done. Nine is a movie I resisted seeing on initial release. I’ve seen the first two minutes three or four times now, trying to find a spare two hours in which to watch the whole thing.
Now that I’ve stuck around for more than that, I’ve found that I had good reason to skip this feature. You remember Chicago, right? Beat Two Towers for Best Picture back in 2002. I remember that it sucked. It was an entire feature built around the idea that I’d enjoy watching a musical about a woman who treats her husband badly, kills a man and gets away with it scot-free. Not only that, but becomes a successful Broadway star. As a man, that doesn’t sound appealing. When I saw it, it wasn’t appealing. Not only was the movie everything I expected it to be, it also had this weird musical vocabulary. Every musical number was staged in a weird fantasyland where the whole world was literally a stage. The same is true of Nine, from director Rob Marshall (Chicago). If I were to say he needs a new musical vocabulary, would I be wrong?
I’ve seen quite a few movie-musicals. The Producers got past the staging problem by expanding sets and establishing a fourth wall. Hairspray changed locations and built big sets to support crowd numbers. Sweeney Todd just had people walkin’ down the street for the songs. Is it really hard to change how you direct a song? With Chicago, at least, the conceit was justified; it was a movie about the showtune age, where all anyone wanted was to be on a stage. Nine is about movies. Why isn’t anyone in front of a camera?
Daniel Day-Lewis has drunk your milkshake and is now an Italian film-maker in the 1960’s named Guido. Guido reminds me of Woody Allen if someone replaced his nervous tics for oozing Italian charm. Still neurotic, still comes down with stress-related illness over every movie of his. However, he also possesses a boyish charm not unlike Roberto Benigni in his best roles. I should hope that’s what Lewis wanted to get across the screen, because if so, he succeeded. He’s a good actor, very good.
Guido is lost for inspiration on his newest feature film Italia. Searching for inspiration, he consults all the women he has known throughout his life. Seriously, that’s the entire plot. There’s a reason I avoided summarizing it until I was almost at 500 words. There’s almost nothing to say about it. The movie has nothing to say about itself. The characters are fascinating, but it can’t handle the sheer number of them. Guido is so busy being drawn everywhere and nowhere that when his emotional moments pop up, they feel less like parts of a story and more like a compilation of crises.
The movie has a lot of fun with 1960’s Italy, but it never invites us to join in. It has an entire song written expressly for the movie about how Italian movies in the sixties were so fun and stylish. That’s great. Someone ask Rob Marshall why his movie ended up looking like an orange and teal factory exploded on the set of Chicago while Daniel Plainview was trying to find his son. All of the actors in this movie are Oscar-tested–well, except for Fergie. Don’t worry, anyone else who thinks she singlehandedly ruined the Black Eyed Peas, she’s only in for one song. And plays a dirty hooker–typecasting much? But I kid Fergie, I do. Except for that part about ruining the Black Eyed Peas. Or maybe their artistic focus shifted to making generic brand pap music out of coincidence as she showed up.
The actors are all good, is what I’m trying to say. Which is why I’m rather astonished that they’d all agree to appear in a project of this quality. That’s not a compliment. They’re all doing good work, what can I say? Marion Cotillard especially sells her scenes as Guido’s long suffering wife. Also effective is Penélope Cruz as Guido’s mistress. Can you see why his wife is so long suffering now?
I’ve gone long without saying the A word. This is a movie musical. For some reason in American movies, stars are not allowed to have people do their singing for them anymore. We’ve become obsessed with authenticity in North America for some reason. Guys, it’s a movie musical–it is as far from authentic as you can get when it comes to media. In our search for authenticity, we’ve ended up bringing about the exact opposite. The road to hell has been paved with Autotuners.
For authenticity’s sake, we make actors sing their own songs in movie-musicals. However, no director of a movie involving music in the last ten years has seen the hypocrisy of then drowning their vocal performance in autotune. Every actor, every last one, has had their vocal performances stomped to death by a machine that seeks to correct their pitch. You know, if we’re going to insist that actor’s sing in our movies, can we at least leave their performances unmolested? Our ambitions for authenticity have been dragged down by how “easy” it is to get a “good” performance. If you define good as hitting the notes, hire a singer. If you define good as performing a song clearly and with great conviction, do me a favour and don’t post-produce the life out of it. Also, autotuning doesn’t know what to do with screams, sighs or other things involved in performing a song as a character. I could hear the note breaks in Kate Hudson’s performance. Come on.
At the end of the day, we’ve seen worse movies, you and I, constant reader. But it still doesn’t take the sting out of sitting all the way through a movie that, by the time the credits roll, has shrugged its shoulders and told you that it has nothing new to say. ONE AND A HALF STARS