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The Musical Nine: Six too many

There are two breeds of musicals. There are the popular musicals that are made for a wide range of viewers; such as “The Sound of Music” and “West Side Story.” Then there are the musicals that are only seen by a small group of musical lovers that have posters of “Gypsy” or “Next to Normal” on their wall. “Nine” would lie somewhere in the middle.

Daniel Day Louis plays Guido Cortini, a famous womanizing director who suffers from writer’s block. He is lost in a daze of reporters and fame, unsure of his next move, his next movie or his next love. Even though he is married to the chic Louisa, a brilliant, relatively unknown Marion Cotillard, he still cannot keep it in his pants.

“Nine” has a “Valentine’s Day” intimidating amount of stars. Very few shine in the movie besides the previously mentioned and Fergie, surprisingly. Penelope Cruz’s character is silly; Judi Dench, competent; Nicole Kidman, almost ridiculous; Sophia Loren; an accessory. Kate Hudson refreshingly plays a character that is not hopelessly brain dead, and even more, can hold her own vocally.

“Nine” is supposed to be a mess; a musical with extravagant fashion and make-up, with too many songs and too many women. However, Rob Marshall, the director of “Chicago,” who was a seemingly perfect pick as director, cleaned up the form of the musical to translate to the screen. While necessary for American consumption, it betrays the mess of Cortini’s mind. Cortini never writes a line for his movie, even though the public and his own crew thinks the script is already finished. The film’s structure is supposed to follow suit.

The main problem with Marshall’s production is his decision to stop the story for almost every song. Every singer, besides the two leads, is given one song and it feels predictable. No matter where the character may be, she is removed from the scene and placed in a dark theater with a spotlight to sing. It disconnects the character from the scene, the song from the plot, and ultimately the viewer from the movie. Marshall plays on the widely held belief in theater that when a character sings, he is providing an artistic interpretation to describe a scene for the audience’s benefit. The rest of the characters in the musical aren’t supposed to realize that there is singing occurring.

What makes up for this is directorial blunder is the absolutely stunning Marion Cotillard. She’s been only recently introduced to American audiences, with performances in “Public Enemies” and an Oscar for Best Actress in “La Vie en Rose.” Her two songs are the only songs that actually contribute to the understanding of Cortini’s mind and his shortsightedness. She simply escapes into the role of the great director’s ignored wife. The cast of “Desperate Housewives” should use Cotillard’s performance as a case study of marital marginalization.

There is a scene where Cortini is watching screen tests, with an already upset Louisa watching in the back. She watches her husband walk up to an aspiring actress in the video, let her hair down and leave her with a terse “thank you, thank you for looking like this.”

This would be jarring as it is, let alone for the fact that he had repeated this display for her during their courting period. Marshall balances song and story perfectly, with “Take it All” and Louisa restraining her emotion and grief at Cortini only to unleash it with soft tears and refusals of forgiveness. Her delicate composure during the dialogue is beautifully contrasted by the angst ridden “Take it All,” until the end of the scene where she emotionally charges at him,

“You’re just an appetite, and if you stopped being greedy you’d die. You take everything and I’m empty.”

“Nine” is a movie that was poorly cast and cheaply adapted. It is Hollywood eye-candy that only gets lost in its own aim for appeal. However, it is worthwhile to watch for Marion Cotillard and Daniel Day Lewis’s performances. Marshall decides to end the movie like the musical would end, with a curtain call of main and secondary characters. It serves as a fittingly unnecessary curtain call for a number of unnecessary actresses.