Saturday, January 02, 2010
"If you talk about a film, you ruin it."
Ever the glutton for punishment, I saw Rob Marshall's film version of the musical NINE, itself a musical version of Fellini's 8 1/2. Full disclosure, not a surprise to anyone: I think Rob Marshall is probably the worst director alive. He has only two living rivals: Joel Schumacher and Zack Snyder, and one recently deceased: the unspeakable Anthony Minghella, who continues his vile influence from beyond the grave as the screenwriter of this film, a rare collaboration of two of the least talented film artists. The results are predictable. NINE is a disaster, plain and simple, except when the glorious Marion Cotillard appears onscreen, gracing the screen and the audience with her magical presence. If you can see this film without falling madly in love with her, you should have your head/heart examined.
The film/musical centers on Guido, a famed filmmaker who is having a creative/personal crisis, or something like that. There are all these women in his life played by assorted movie stars. The story just lurches along with none of the grace or speed of the Fellini film, or the merry energy of the original Broadway production of the musical. Marshall & Co. seem to realize that they can't just remake Fellini (even though they include big chunks of dialogue almost verbatim from Fellini's masterwork, without credit), and they seem to not be interested in just doing the musical as written, either, so they go with a grab bag of elements from 8 1/2, LA DOLCE VITA, and even borrows elements from Woody Allen's STARDUST MEMORIES (a running gag about how everyone loves Guido's earlier successful films) and the inevitable Bob Fosse, as Guido's studio-bound fantasies seem to be lifted right out of ALL THAT JAZZ.
It has come to this. Marshall doesn't just emulate Fellini. He emulates Fellini emulators. Marshall even lifts bits out of Tommy Tune's original Broadway staging of the musical, and one has to wonder exactly how much in royalties the Fosse estate is getting for the ongoing use of those bentwood chairs that Marshall just can't seem to function without. Saraghina's big number, "Be Italian," is staged with Tommy Tune's tambourines and the bentwood chairs from the "Lieber Herr" number from Fosse's film of CABARET, taking sheer plagiarism to heights undreamed of by Brian De Palma.
To be fair, part of the blame has to go to Daniel Day-Lewis, who is quite simply miscast as Guido. Not an actor known for displaying joy or even anything as base as mere fun, Day-Lewis lays on the earnest self-loathing with a trowel without any of the mitigating charm that would make his character interesting or even bearable. His opening song is hideously ill-performed and directed with typically Marshallian stupidity, the opportunity for Day-Lewis to display any warmth in the amusing "duet with myself" is missed as Guido performs the song while climbing through some piping for reasons that pass understanding. And Day-Lewis' big breakdown is skillfully performed, but it has no impact because there's been no sympathy built up for his plight. It seems to take Guido a long time to realize what has been eminently clear to even the dimmest sentient audience member: the guy's an asshole. And the interminable epilogue (2 years later, for God's sake) ends with a whimper not a bang.
There are some surprises to be had here, though. Marshall's usual Rusty Cuisinart Editing style is put on hold for a couple of songs, during which we actually get to see the performers sing. Marion Cotillard's performance of "My Husband Makes Movies" is done with a minimum of wackadoo editing; her pain comes shining through that gorgeous face and teary eyes in what is easily the film's highpoint.
What surprised me most about the film is the way that almost all fun has been leeched from the story, the characters, the songs, and the very fabric of filmmaking itself. NINE is a big fat downer of a movie, based upon one of the most joyful works of art ever created. I have to say that I detect the narcotizing influence of the late and unlamented Anthony Minghella (who shares screenplay credit with Michael Tolkin) in this particular tonal shift. Instead of Felini's joyful energy, which animates even 8 1/2's darkest moments, we get a sort of mournful malaise more in keeping with THE ENGLISH PATIENT or COLD MOUNTAIN than the glories of Fellini.
This is really unforgiveable in a film with delusions of being Fellini-esque. As painful as Marshall's monstrous CHICAGO is, it at least has energy -- the mad plot, the great score, even the outrageously caffeinated weed-wacker editing kept my interest as I watched the film through my fingers. NINE seems to be after a more serious "grown-up" vibe, but Marshall & Co., with their all-too-typical stupidity, miss one of the Maestro's most endearing traits: joy.