It’s Complicated and Nine
Saving the Worst for Last
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
“It’s Complicated” (opened December 25 throughout San Diego) and “Nine” (opened December 25 throughout San Diego) are two of the most miserable filmgoing experiences of recent memory. Tooth extraction without Novocain would be more pleasant. If I give them short shrift it’s because I don’t want to extend the pain any further or waste any more of my life.
I seriously considered having this as my review for “It’s Complicated:” This film about divorce and late blooming romance was so painful that it made my own divorce seem fun.
Yes it was that bad. Heck my toilets backing up on Thanksgiving as my guests arrived were more entertaining. This film is not complicated in any way, shape or form and if we had truth in advertising it should have been called “It’s Simple-Minded Crap.”
Now the idea of Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin in a middle-aged romantic comedy has some potential. They are all actors with comic skill and even a little comic bite. But then you put Nancy Meyers (the person behind “Something’s Gotta Give” and “The Holiday”) at the helm and suddenly all the life and humor are zapped out of the film.
Thank God Kathryn Bigelow made a film this year to prove that women can do more than “chick flicks” or else I’d be feeling embarrassed for women filmmakers. Meyers’ film cops out to all the worst clichés about chick flicks – that they are sappy, self-indulgent, emotionally messy soap operas that only a woman could enjoy and that send men racing for the aisles. But this one is so bad that I would hope even women would flee. And if I didn't have to review this film believe me I would have run for the exit after about 15 minutes.
Meyers offers yet another humorless, predictable, and stereotyped comedy contrived to tap into the older woman demo. It’s times like these that I hate being associated with the female gender. It’s embarrassing to see films like this pretend to show not only what women are like but also what women want to see. And it’s embarrassing to know that some women fall for it – to the tune of $22 million at the weekend box office.
Okay it’s nice to see a 60-year-old Meryl Streep as the object of desire in a romantic comedy; and it’s nice to make fun of plastic surgery and say it’s okay to age and wrinkle; and it’s nice to see a film targeting the under-served older crowd. But when you package those positive messages in a humorless, lifeless script like the one Meyers creates, well it just scream out for euthanasia. I mean pull the damn plug the patient is already brain-dead!
It doesn’t help that while Meryl flees a plastic surgeon’s office and champions natural aging, it looks like Steve Martin has had some face-stretching that makes him unable to even smile. That makes for a mixed message. And while it’s fine that Alec Baldwin has a gut and can still be a romantic lead, do we really need to see him (or his butt double) naked? After all what we see we cannot unsee. In fact that goes for the whole movie and I wish I had not seen people I like in such drivel. If you feel the need for a late-blooming romantic comedy, go see Meryl in “Mamma Mia!” That at least had a sense of silly fun and energy. It was a guilty pleasure but at least it was a pleasure.
Now we come to “Nine,” which on a scale of 1 to 10 scores a negative 20. And that’s being generous. Federico Fellini must be turning in his grave. “Nine” pretends to be about an Italian filmmaker modeled after the great Fellini. We find the director Guido Contini (Daniel Day Lewis, a great actor but not a convincing Italian) in the midst of an artistic crisis as he tries to complete his latest film for which he doesn’t even have a script. He’s a genius but of course his private life is a mess with a wife, a mistress, and a screen goddess to contend with. Oh and did I mention it’s a musical? The pain quotient just went up. And it goes up again because at the helm is Rob Marshall the man who delivered the worst film of 2002 with “Chicago.” (And I don’t care if he did win the Oscar.) Marshall does not know how to direct movie musicals. His visual style is bland and he tries to spice up his lack of imagination with lots of cuts, which also covers up the uninspired choreography. It’s films like this that give movie musicals a bad name. Please go back and watch any musical from MGM’s heyday to see what movie musicals can be.
In addition, my guess is that Rob Marshall never saw a Fellini film in his life and if he did it was only as “research” to do this film. Nothing in “Nine” reveals any genuine affection for Fellini or the least bit of insight into his work. Where Fellini was light and subtle, Marshall is obvious and heavy-handed. Where Fellini was sexy, Marshall is crass. Where Fellini was warm and humorous, Marshall is vapid and bland. “Nine” has absolutely no sense of what made Fellini great. Fellini had a sense of magic. He found poetry in the everyday and made the grotesque beautiful. He also had wonderful, warm earthy humor. None of that is evident in “Nine.”
Daniel Day Lewis (another actor I love and whose participation in such a miscalculated mess troubles me) plays the Fellini-esque director Guido and makes a valiant attempt to breath life into him. But the character is such a whiny, self-indulgent shell of a man that I could never care about him or his art. Aside from Sophia Loren’s cameo (I hope she got a lot of money for selling out like this), I don’t think there are any real Italians in the main roles. In fact ice queen Nicole Kidman plays an Italian sex goddess in Guido’s firmament. Really? Kidman as an earthy European sex goddess in the tradition of Claudia Cardinale, Anita Ekberg or Virni Lisi? What are you insane? She not only looks all wrong (with a skinny body like hers I doubt she ever downed a bowl of pasta) but she’s also thoroughly unconvincing in both her accent and acting. The only two who survive this fiasco with a modicum of success are Penelope Cruz (over-oomphing as the sexy mistress) and Judi Dench (exuding the driest of deliveries as Guido’s long-suffering designer).
This film has already been made first as Fellini’s brilliant and inimitable “8 ½” and then later as Bob Fosse’s flawed but energetic “All That Jazz.” And both of those films are light years better than “Nine.” “Nine” also suffers from pedantic score and songs that feel like narration set to a Broadway tune. As my friend pointed out, the faux Nino Rota score made you want to plug your ears and hum till the whole thing ended. Rota’s music for Fellini’s films was always enchanting but the music by Maury Yeston (Broadway musical) and Andrea Guerra (composer for the film) is just a pale rip off. Couldn’t they have at least used the real Rota music from Fellini’s films or did Rota’s estate have more sense that Loren in terms of staying out of this mess? Adding insult to injury, all the staged numbers feel recycled from “Chicago.” How many times do we have to have women in lingerie dancing on chairs like hookers in a “Cabaret”-style whorehouse. I want my two-hours back!
This year has some of the worst film experiences I have ever had. So I have to add “Nine” and “It’s Complicated” along with “The Strip” as films that should be loaded up with the nuclear waste and shot into space.
“Nine” is rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking, and “It’s Complicated” is rated R for some drug content and sexuality. But both should have been rated NC-A - Not to be Seen by Anyone.
Companion viewing for “Nine”: “8 ½,” “All That Jazz,” “Singin’ in the Rain”
Companion viewing for “It’s Complicated”: “Mamma Mia!,” “Roxanne,” “Miami Blues”
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