Monday, December 28, 2009
I love Frederico Fellini's 8½. It deserves to be amongst the realm of the greatest films ever made, and I relish every chance I get to watch it (no surprise that I'm dying to get my hands on Criterion's Blu-Ray in January). So imagine my surprise that the biggest problem with Rob Marshall's adaptation of an adaptation of Fellini's classic is that it is just that - a remake of one of the most intimate films ever made. 8½ is so personal to Fellini, it goes beyond the typical proclamation that "this film would not exist if the director had never lived." It's not just Fellini's candid revelation of his many flaws, or the film's very particular style...it's almost intangible, in the little touches like Marcello Mastroianni dancing down the hall, singing the overture of "The Barber of Seville" to himself.
It's, actually, the magic that Daniel Day-Lewis' Guido talks about at the beginning of Nine, that accidental joy that comes from the right montage, or Guido's dissection of why the screenplay is the last thing that matters to the audience - it's the glint in an actress's eye, the particular way she moves within the frame and the frame moves around her. THAT'S 8½.
So, as noted, Nine's biggest problem is existing in the first place, but it largely redeems itself by not trying to be 8½ all over again and just being a rather spectacular romp through 60s Italian culture. Except the end (vague spoilers follow until the next paragraph), which nearly ruined the good favor the film held with me up until then; it's far too neat and tidy, and puts a much more dramatic spin on the proceedings than is really necessary. I suppose your typical audience needs a bastard to pay for his wrongdoing, but there was something so great about the way Fellini just through up his hands and said "what'll you do!" with the way he ended 8½ (and I mean, you're making a musical of a movie that randomly explodes into a dance number at the end...how do you NOT follow suit?)
But boy, up 'til then, it's pretty damn sensational. I mean, sure, who wouldn't want to spend two hours (or three...go see La Dolce Vita!) drenched in that 60s Italian culture? And it's pretty refreshing that it hits many of the same emotional beats 8½ did when they mean to at the same time - some scenes are lifted whole cloth, but they still work within the context of what is necessarily a very stripped-down version of the original. It's playful in a way similar to Fellini, but without aping the touch that made it so much fun (music instead of mise-en-scene, typically).
What really makes the movie tick is the cast, which could have easily been populated with totally incapable of-the-moment stars, but was pretty damn well selected all things considered - Day-Lewis just having a ball putting on his best Mastroianni impression, Penelope Cruz oozing sex appeal and hopelessness, and Marion Cotillard...when I heard she was playing this role, I knew we'd be in for something special, but I'm slowly learning that whatever we expect from Cotillard, she's always better. Even Fergie's weirdly good, in every definition those two words could produce.
Marshall could still learn to tone down his camerawork and editing a touch - he and his cinematographer, Dion Beebe, produce such lovely images, and boy it'd be swell if they just took a second a let us savor them (particularly the black and white, I say, diving headfirst into being that old guy bitching about movies these days). The songs range from spectacular (the opening number, "Be Italian," Cruz's first number, Cotillard's last) to "wha?" (Kate Hudson, the only cast member who walks away having brought nothing to the table, but it sort of fits in a way that you know couldn't have possibly been on purpose).
In a year chock-full of the most disappointing of splashy "entertainments" (The Hangover being the notable exception, and I still have yet to see Sherlock Holmes), I'm shocked critics have by and large dumped over what is perhaps sacrilege, but damn entertaining and more than competant all the while. I don't usually wrap up reviews with a recommendation, but just see the damn thing; it's a hoot.