Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA/Italy, 2009. The Weinstein Company, Relativity Media, Marc Platt Productions, Lucamar Productions, Jac Film and Television, Guido Contini Films. Screenplay by Michael Tolkin, Anthony Minghella, based on the Broadway musical by Arthur Kopit, Maury Yeston, Mario Fratti. Cinematography by Dion Beebe. Produced by John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Marc Platt, Harvey Weinstein. Music by Andrea Guerra. Production Design by John Myhre. Costume Design by Colleen Atwood. Film Editing by Claire Simpson, Wyatt Smith. Academy Awards 2009. Golden Globe Awards 2009. Washington Film Critics Awards 2009.
Maury Yeston’s musical play, adapted from Federico Fellini’s classic 8 1/2, is brought to the big screen by Chicago‘s Rob Marshall. Daniel Day-Lewis subs for Marcello Mastroianni as the filmmaker who has achieved world fame and now has nothing to say and no idea what to do about his latest project. His sets are built, his costume designer is in place, the film has a title (“Italia”!) and his star (Nicole Kidman, standing in for the original’s Claudia Cardinale) is signed, but where is the script? While investigating his lack of inspiration, Day-Lewis ruminates on his relationships with the women of his life, all of whom burst into song in his mind when he encounters them either in life or his imagination: Kidman, his suffering wife (Marion Cotillard in for Anouk Aimee), his sexy mistress (Penelope Cruz replacing Sandra Milo), his costume designer (Judi Dench), his late mother (Sophia Loren), the prostitute who thrilled him as a child (Fergie, who is wonderful) and a sexy American journalist (Kate Hudson). Unlike Fellini’s film, this one never really goes beneath the surface of its themes: Mastroianni’s Guido was suffering an existential crisis, wondering if his inability to create suddenly meant he was no longer able to live. In Marshall’s version, Guido is more petulant than frustrated, and the musical numbers don’t really help: the songs are flat and unmemorable for the most part (Cruz is divinely sexy in her striptease number, but her song is probably the worst) and have very little connection with the plot. Even when they do they offer very little emotional resonance that compliments the dramatic storyline; Dench sings her heart out in “Follies Bergere,” but its excuse in the story is threadbare at best. The choreography is a retread of Chicago with less impressive music, though the two new songs written specially for the film version are the best, Hudson’s lively “Cinema Italiano” and Cotillard’s “Take It All”. That and her “My Husband Makes Movies” are the only two numbers that actually do offer a sentimental anchor, and Cotillard’s terrific performance really sells them both (though she’s also quite magnificent when she’s not singing). Marshall ensures that the opulent photography and plush costumes that have been so available in his previous features are in full display, and is commended for not trying too hard to recreate Fellini’s own style, but his film is flat and uninspiring.