To remake a film that is considered one of the greatest of all time is quite a task. Another extremely challenging task is to adapt a beloved Tony-award winning musical. Guess what Ninehad to do? From screen to stage and back to screen Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ has gone through the treatment. However does anything remain from the surreal character study? God, I wish.
In Italy, Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is preparing his ninth film with much anticipation. Despite the fact that production starts in a few days, not a word of the script has been written. In fact Gudio is in a complete funk, unable to think of a premise. Like most tortured geniuses, he retreats to internal musical numbers. (I was worried it was just me for all these years.) Yet…it doesn’t really make sense. The effect worked well in Rob Marshall other film, Chicago, but it’s always unclear who is concocting the numbers. It can’t always be Guido because most of sad ballads of his wife, played wonderfully by Marion Cotillard, are oblivious to him. Also if these are his songs, shouldn’t they be insightful into what surrounds him?
If the songs connected in a meaningful way, this would be something special. I have a friend of mine who believes I should not think about what the movie could be but examine what it is. Well I apologize Pedro, but the film made me do it! So many of the characters talk about the magic of Italian cinema and how Guido is the embodiment of it all. I had no choice but to compare that to what I was watching. This movie was so different from what it was praising, that it became depressing. I started to wonder why this movie was even set in Italy. This is a bland Hollywood movie through and through. There’s no spark or rawness that I’ve seen with Fellini or Vittorio de Sica. Nine needed someone who wasn’t afraid to try and truly capture that spirit, like Steven Soderbergh. (I would pay top dollar to see a Soderbergh musical.)
I seem completely grim, but Day-Lewis saves the film in many instances. He is very entertaining as the self-absorbed and conflicted artist. He may not tap dance across the sets like Marcello Mastroianni, but he is able to address the world like he is always directing. Even when he’s throwing up his arms and wanting nothing from anybody, there is a style to it. As great as he makes certain moments, the movie ultimately lets him down. Due to the mediocrity of the musical numbers, which is the main narrative push, his big moments aren’t deserved or anyone’s moments for that matter. That’s too bad.