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In Defense of Rob Marshall's Nine

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Merry Day After Christmas, everyone! I hope you all had a fun holiday—or at least a relaxing day off. I celebrated with Chinese food and movies, because I’m Jewish and that’s just what we do. Today I’m going to see another movie (sans Chinese food), and it struck me that I may be the only film critic I know who is actually seeing “Nine” for a second time.

If you’ve somehow missed the buzz, “Nine” is an adaptation of the stage musical, itself adapted from Federico Fellini’s classic “8 1/2.” The film follows lothario director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he struggles with writer’s block and far too many women. There’s his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), his mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz), and his muse Claudia (Nicole Kidman)—to name a few. It’s a rich story with sensational music, and the film is packed with Academy Award-winning talent. Not to mention the fact that it was directed by Rob Marshall, who made “Chicago,” arguably the best movie musical in recent memory. What’s not to love?

A lot, apparently. Reaction to “Nine” has been mixed, to say the least. On Rotten Tomatoes, it’s currently holding onto a depressing 40%, meaning that the majority of reviews have been negative. When I attended a press screening a few weeks back, I noted that most of the other critics in attendance seemed less-than-enthused. One of those critics, Mick LaSalle, went on to call it “one of the worst movies of the year.” Ouch. Funny thing about “Nine”: I really enjoyed it.

Now, I don’t always agree with Mick LaSalle—or with my other critic peers. But it’s rare that my reaction is so far from that of everyone else I’ve spoken to. So what did I like about “Nine”? I loved (almost) all of the performances, particularly Marion Cottilard and Penelope Cruz as the two women closest to Guido. Well, maybe. Daniel Day-Lewis has gotten his fair share of flack, but I also thought he was solid in the lead role. I’ll concede that Antonio Banderas, who played Guido in the Broadway revival, would have been a better choice, but there’s no denying Day-Lewis’ talent. Frankly, the only weak link was Sophia Loren, who is really more out of place than anything else.

As for the songs, I thought they all worked well in the film—with the possible exception, again, of Sophia Loren’s number. The music in “Nine” isn’t exactly hummable, but it never has been. Still, I think Rob Marshall did a good job of integrating the songs into the story and giving them a cinematic quality that you wouldn’t be able to find on stage. Even if you don’t feel inclined to sing along, you’re still drawn into the spectacle.

Well, I was. Maybe I’m being too easy on “Nine”—I have a hard time getting down on movie musicals, mostly because I’m so excited that they’re getting made. We’ll see how I feel after revisiting “Nine” at the Castro this afternoon. Feel free to join me and draw your own conclusions.