Screen Jams is our recurring look at the most buzzworthy new music featured in movies, TV shows, and video games—pretty much any form of entertainment you can enjoy with your eyes.
We kick off our new soundtrack column with a visit to Hollywood, by way of Broadway. We dived into the music of Nine, Rob Marshall’s film adaptation of the stage production, that stars pretty much everyone who won an Oscar, ever. But can any of them channel the swingin’ 60s better than Fergie? See below to hear our verdict:
Since the film hasn’t opened yet, and Dame Judi Dench never responded to our suggestion that she invite us to escort her to the premiere, we’re focusing strictly on how the music sounds in a relative vacuum: are the songs interesting or memorable? Can any of these oft-lauded actors carry a tune? Let’s dive in.
Nine is based off the Broadway musical written by Maury Yeston, which in turn is based on the 1963 Frederico Fellini movie 8½. Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) stars as a famous film director who has writer’s block, partly caused by all the female distractions in his life—his wife (Marion Cottilard), his mistress (Penelope Cruz), his leading actress (Nicole Kidman), an American journalist (Kate Hudson) and the memories of a prostitute he befriended in his youth (Fergie).
We might as well begin with the movie’s sole leading man and then work our way to the ladies. Day-Lewis pretty much talk-sings through his two songs, which isn’t a big surprise. He’s there to act, not sing, and though we already knew Day-Lewis excelled at the former, it turns out he’s fairly passable at the latter (think Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd). Still, his performance makes one wonder why Antonio Banderas turned down the chance to reprise his Tony-nominated performance—for those who have seen the Broadway production, the absence of his strong vibrato is missing immediately. (Would Javier Bardem have done better? We’ll never know.)
And a quick look at the leading ladies: Marion Cotillard, who lip-synced rather brilliantly as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose, proves she can actually pull off songs in her own voice with her rendition of the delicate ballad, “My Husband Makes Movies.” As for musical veteran Nicole Kidman, Nine’s musical brain trust took the longing “Unusual Way” an octave down from the Broadway original for her—and from the sound of her performance, that was a wise choice. Mrs. Keith Urban’s range just isn’t broad enough to pull off the original soprano take, and in the nine years since Moulin Rouge, her voice has dropped to almost a high tenor. It’s a pretty song, but unexciting without some powerful vocals behind it.
We’ve heard Penelope Cruz sing before in Pedro Almodovar’s Volver, and she was great. But. That song was in Spanish, and Penny’s accent in the flirty “A Call from the Vatican” (a personal favorite of mine from the play) is so distracting, and her range is so limited, that it comes off as the weak link on the album. 30 Rock’s Jane Krakowski won a Tony for her performance of this song, and that makes Cruz’s version of what is supposed to be one of Nine’s showstoppers all the more disappointing. Without seeing Cruz’s sexy bod on-screen while listening to this version, there’s really nothing to be impressed by.
Is Fergie the new Jennifer Hudson of movie musicals? Girl went from basically being a sidenote cameo in schlocky movies to stealing the whole damn show with her turn as prostitute Saraghina. The most accomplished singer of the bunch, she growls and belts through the catchiest song on the soundtrack, “Be Italian.” The club remix of the song comes across as a little forced, and we don’t see this inspiring any waving of hands in the air at your local nighttime hot spot. On the up side, though, Fergie’s “Quando, Quando, Quando,” unnecessarily featuring will.i.am, is a great retro throwback that will make want to hop back in time and climb aboard a Pam Am flight to Rome.
The biggest surprise on the soundtrack? Kate Hudson. She can sing just about as well as Renée Zellweger did in Chicago (who we all know took the role of Roxy, which is reserved for actresses who really can’t sing but still want to do Broadway). The Hollywood version of Nine hands her an original track that wasn’t in the B’way show, the sassy “Cinema Italiano,” (produced by Black Eyed Peas and Pussycat Dolls mastermind Ron Fair), which could honestly be right off the soundtrack to Sex and the City 2. Writing a new tune for Kate has already proven to be a good call, not just because she nails it, but the song got nominated for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes. (We’d love to see her perform this at the Oscars, if only so we can tell if she can sing outside the studio.)
As far as the songs not sung by the leading ladies in the film, British indie retro-rock group The Noisettes perform, “Lo Baccio… Tu Baci” that certainly sounds straight out of the 60s. (Inspired by the 1961 film Lo Baccio… Tu Baci, perhaps?) And this is the longstanding blessing/curse of of including music from actual, um, musicians on a soundtrack mainly populated by actors. The bouncy track possesses far more more power and personality than most of the actresses on the album could hope to convey.
We couldn’t say the same for Griffith Frank, and up-and-coming singer who scored a pretty sweet deal landing on this soundtrack before his own album comes out next year. Frank comes with his own spin on “Unusual Way,” but it comes off as an uninteresting Josh Groban cover.
So should you spend your dime on Nine? If you’re a big enough fan of the Broadway play, you probably ought to stick to listening to the cast album(s). But if you’re unfamiliar with the theatrical version (or you take a dim view of musicals), download The Noisettes’ “Lo Bacio…Tu Baci” and Fergie’s “Quando, Quando, Quando” and throw yourself a Mad Men themed tiki party. Seeing the movie in theaters will probably be a more entertaining experience, since in the end most of the actresses are more pleasing to the eyes than the ears.
The Nine soundtrack is released by Geffen Records. The film is out in theatres in New York and Los Angeles December 18 and nationwide Christmas Day, and is currently nominated for five Golden Globes.
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