If you’re looking for a phenomenal musical riff on Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2, full of lust, creative conflict, self-lacerating autobiography, dark humor and exceptional dance sequences, the movie is called All That Jazz, and Bob Fosse made it back in 1979.
Nine, Fosse-pillager Rob Marshall’s incompetent mounting of the 1982 Broadway musical based on Fellini’s trickiest opus, is an absolute travesty. Much like Marshall’s pitifully unimaginative 2002 adaptation of Fosse’s Chicago, it’s a musical for people who hate musicals, again confining the singing and dancing numbers to a black proscenium soundstage that exists only in the protagonist’s imagination—because gawd forbid anybody burst into song in a musical—cutting so frenetically around rapid-fire close-ups of bodies in motion, it’s impossible to tell if anybody onscreen ever even took a dance lesson.
Fellini’s playfully sad reverie was the deeply personal tale of Guido Contini, a renowned filmmaker suffering from writer’s block and drowning in pussy. Played with droll desperation by Marcello Mastroianni, Guido’s self-pity was essentially whimsical. By contrast, Nine’s screenplay comes from Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella, two desperately serious writers who make the fatal mistake of taking spoiled baby Guido’s predicament as the stuff of grand tragedy. Daniel Day-Lewis might be our greatest living actor, but he couldn’t possibly be more wrong for this role, replacing Mastroinni’s debauched delight with angsty hand-wringing and Method-y temper-tantrums. (He also seems about as Italian as a Shepherd’s Pie.)
Marshall borrows visual quotes from multiple Fellini sources without ever quite understanding them, summed up by the bizarre blunder of casting a disturbingly emaciated and botoxed Nicole Kidman as a va-va-voom Anita Ekberg figure. Worse, Nine has invented a character for Judi Dench to stroke Guido’s ego, excusing his misbehavior by telling him how “important” he is all the time. Her final monologue is every writer’s fantasy justification for all their misdeeds. “The world doesn’t need for you to grow up, we need you to make great art.”
Amid the unmemorable songs, the only standout is “Cinema Italiano,” an instant camp classic performed by Kate Hudson that sounds like a shampoo commercial jingle, with cineaste terms like “neo-realism” awkwardly shoehorned into the lyrics. Nine is a leaden, masturbatory desecration of a great artist’s seminal work. Fellini is lucky that he didn’t live long enough to see it. D-