Why Harvey Weinstein is like his lead, director Guido Contini in “Nine”

It was hard to tell if a single person cared that Rob Marshall didn’t show up to The Wrap’s screening of “Nine” for his Q-and-A. Because when Harvey Weinstein walked in to serve as his replacement, an excited hush swept over the 200-seat Arclight Sherman Oaks theater, as if everyone knew they were in the presence of a Hollywood giant.

Even Sharon Waxman, The Wrap’s editor in chief, who earlier this Fall grumbled to me about a missed opportunity to interview Weinstein, was visibly nervous. But instead of asking the provocative questions that she felt went unanswered in a New York Times profile, Waxman got a bit tongue-tied sitting across from moviedom’s self-made mogul.

She was in awe of the presence and couldn’t really see the man. It was an echo of the film we had just watched.

“P.F. Chang’s is my favorite food experience ever,” Weinstein announced when he took his seat in the director’s chair at the front of the theater. “I’m going to get Nora Ephron to make a food movie out of it.”

Whatever Weinstein wants, Weinstein gets.

Aiming to mimic his self indulgence, Waxman said, “I just feel like smoking now, I don’t know why.” It was meant to be an ironic comment on the film’s oh-so-European reverence for chain-smoking. Cigarettes are like air to Guido Contini, an entrenched Italian film director played by Daniel Day Lewis who is days away from production on a film for which he hasn’t penned a script and smokes—incessantly—to calm his nerves. As the stress suffocates him, he turns to his beautiful muses for inspiration. But none of them—played by Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Fergie and Italian legend Sophia Loren—can solve his existential creative crisis.

It is vaguely reminiscent of a certain mogul, who busies himself courting the Oscars while his company struggles to pay the bills.

Asked about the genesis of the film, Weinstein, who first teamed up with Marshall on the Oscar-winning musical “Chicago” said, “I never liked making musicals until I saw how cynical Bob Fosse was.”

Excuse me, but since when did Harvey Weinstein celebrate cynicism? Is this the same self-starter whose company Miramax set the standard for independent film outfits to compete with the studios? The same Hollywood heavyweight who battled then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner to make expensive tentpole films because he believed they’d deliver profit?

Weinstein said he loved “Chicago” for showcasing media exploitation and manipulation. The press was a tool that could be manipulated to influence audience expectations (and in the film’s case, the outcome of a murder trial).

In “Nine,” Guido Contini can’t bear the press. He flees the scene of a press conference instead of facing the truth. And in real life, Weinstein has seen his reputation sullied by bad press, but has learned to remake his image. 

Weinstein was attracted to “Nine,” he said, because it shares that Fosse “cynicism.” It is a glamorous portrait of a rich and famous filmmaker, who has a magnificent muse for every mood, but is more or less miserable.

Weinstein is a rich and famous producer, with a glamorous life and a mythic temper, who divorced his wife of 18-years and replaced her with a fashion designer and actress, 24-years his junior. But just like with Contini, a muse does not a profitable business make. And in life, as in the film, women seen only as arm accessories are powerless to impact the outcome of their lovers’ fates.

Weinstein needs “Nine” to be a big hit (along with his summer release, “Inglourious Basterds”). The success or failure of The Weinstein Company rests on the shoulders of muses—Weinstein’s one true love: his movies. And if they don’t reap real rewards both fiscal and political, Weinstein may wind up like Contini, isolated and alone, with an overgrown beard, not sought-after by press, but bemoaning his losses to anyone who will listen.