NINE (Rob Marshall, 2009)
Mastroianni had a way of evoking Guido's neurosis in glimpses, without effort, making it intriguing – making you find your own way into his mind rather than pandering to you. With a frightening parody of an Italian accent (and an equally frightening one of singing) Day-Lewis looks like he is giving birth to his neurosis, chewing it up afterbirth-and-all and presenting it to you to re-digest. It really is sickening to watch. Sophia Loren looks particularly bewildered. Or is it just disoriented? In any case, the polite thing seems to be to stop looking.
As for the other women – there are too many of them. Or at least too many of them have nothing to do. Judi Dench is a treasure, and she garbles her way through her tacky number affably, but she is ultimately little more than an exposition device. Kate Hudson on the other hand is an economic device – she does nothing particularly wrong but she is acting in a different movie: her scenes play like excerpts from an even shallower concoction and there are enough of them purely for the Weinsteins to cut a trailer that will convince teens and pre-teens that they’re in for a feature length retro Pepsi ad rather than a period existentialist quandary with production numbers. Fergie is the Weinsteins’ other box-office weapon and she acquits herself well, but her number is more static than all of Memoirs of a Geisha (and the perfume-ad-monochrome sequence that leads up to is when the film’s warmed-over-Fellini stench hits hardest). When Nicole Kidman turns up for her cameo she is uncharacteristically relaxed and lovely, until she has to sing (a pompous ballad way beyond her range) – then she gives into all her usual strained impulses.
In the end, the two reasons that hefty patches of this turgidity are inordinately enjoyable and even moving are Penelope Cruz and, in particular, Cotillard. Cruz brings fire, sex and freshness, whereas in her numbers, Cotillard transports you into a dark, aching, enthralling and deeply affecting musical of the highest order. Ultimately you leave the theatre feeling violated by the hack’s conception of a singing and dancing epic that Rob Marshall presents, but also intoxicated by the rich, passionate musical melodrama that Cotillard seeds into the diva-worshipping movie lover in you (in all of us? Or just me?).