Rob Marshall’s Nine arrives stuffed with a murderer’s row of big talent: Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench … An array of A-listers like this could probably sell a picture in which they just sit around playing Foosball with their Oscar statuettes. But here they attempt something more difficult, if — for most of them — equally out of their wheelhouses: becoming singing, dancing, ha-cha-cha-ing machines. The advance reviews have been largely brutal, but we checked it out for ourselves, specifically to see who has a future in Broadway revivals, and who has a future in staying far, far away from a choreographer and a pitch pipe. Here’s our ranking of the cast’s performances, in descending order.
Cotillard already proved her singing chops with her Oscar-winning role as Edith Piaf in Ma Vie en Rose; here she comes across as the cast’s most confident performer. As the increasingly put-upon wife of Day-Lewis’s protagonist, Guido, she has to perform two very different numbers: The demure and melancholy “My Husband Makes Movies,” and the fierce and angry “Take It All,” which sees her vamping it up without ever coming off as gruesome … a feat that eludes many of the other performers. There is an awkwardness to her scantily-clad squirming in the latter number, but in this case, that unease actually feels intentional.
We know Kidman can sing (even if Moulin Rouge! feels like a lifetime ago), and her voice here sounds surprisingly regal — appropriate, perhaps, for a character who serves as Guido’s somewhat distant Nordic muse. She doesn’t have to do too much dancing; she mostly walks around looking unattainable and somewhat aloof. All in all, she acquits herself honorably, even if her musical number, “Unusual Way,” is one of the film’s more forgettable tracks.
She’s playing Guido’s Mamma, so it’s not like she’s going to have to strip down to her undies or anything; as a result, Loren mostly gets away with her dignity intact. Plus, she has a nice voice: Loren actually had a pretty successful singing career in the sixties, especially with some comic duets with Peter Sellers. She does look strange, though: As our own David Edelstein said
, “There is … an Italian woman going by the name of ‘Sophia Loren,’ but I prefer to think it’s someone wearing a mask.”
One can sense the great Method actor’s discomfort at not really having a character to lose himself in. (Maybe that’s why he delivers his climactic lyric, “Find yourself another genius!” with such conviction.) His singing voice sounds pretty much like his acting voice, and his Guido has a bit of a Dracula accent — but we found all that strangely charming. His dancing mostly consists of him sinuously walking around an empty set, but he does capture a real vulnerability in his final number, which he ends with a shockingly guttural cry and breakdown: It’s the only moment in the film where the character’s angst feels real.
Harvey Weinstein appears to be putting most of his awards season muscle behind her performance in Nine. (She’s already gotten a Golden Globe nomination, one of five for the film.) We’ll assume Harvey’s push is because she shows the most skin — her singing, to our ears, felt forced and unwieldy. She does writhe and gyrate pretty bravely, but all that thrashing about rarely feels dirty. And, since she’s playing the hero’s mistress, we’re assuming it should.
She’s a pro, but the Black Eyed Pea is out of her comfort zone here, roaring out the lyrics to “Be Italian” in a manner that’s supposed to be boisterous but is also scary. It feels strangely one-note, like a Broadway performance given by someone who’s never seen one. It’s not entirely her fault, though: Her character, a prostitute who gives our hero his first vision of sex, should be something raw and elemental (in the original 8 ½, she was a classic Fellini grotesque): Marshall seems to think this can be accomplished just by marching her around in smeared makeup and torn stockings.
She’s got one of the worst songs in the film — a painful piece called “Cinema Italiano,” with lyrics like “I feel my body chill/Gives me a special thrill/Each time I see that Guido Neo-Realism” — and she’s playing the embodiment of all that is skin-deep and shallow in the entertainment world. Maybe it’s a thankless part, but she certainly can’t save herself with a weird fashion show–like dance number and a lot of late-period Britney-esque sashaying. Plus, her constant smiling just looks weird.
Her number is a strong contender for the movie’s worst song, a bizarre piece called “Folies Bergere,” which she performs in a French accent; her character in the film, by the way, does not have a French accent. And poor Dame Judi looks bemused and totally out of it in the zonked-out and utterly tasteless musical number that accompanies it.