Guido Contini is a legendary and groundbreaking Italian director who has grand plans for an epic film about his beloved homeland. The only problem is he doesn’t have a script. So, he does what any good director would do. He builds grand sets, commissions fancy costumes, runs up a huge budget, and casts big-name stars. Script? Who needs a script? The movie will write itself.
Unfortunately, in the case of Nine, the latest film from director Rob Marshall, life imitated art a little too well.
Nine boasts one of the most amazing casts ever assembled. Six Academy Award winners (Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren, Penelope Cruz, and Judi Dench). One additional Oscar nominee and Us Weekly fixture (Kate Hudson). One multi-platinum recording artist (Fergie). Throw in some breathtaking Italian scenery, eye-catching song-and-dance numbers, and numerous shots of gorgeous women dancing around in lingerie and low-cut dresses and fishnet stockings, and you would be hard-pressed to find any movie that looked better, on paper or in trailers, than Nine. With so much going for it, you would think that they could have taken the worst screenplay known to man (also known as Batman and Robin) and the end product would still result in boatloads of critical acclaim and awards. Indeed, it’s possible that Nine could clean up at the Golden Globes in January.
However, that result would say more about the politics of the awards process and less about the quality of this film. Nine somehow, squanders its powerhouse cast, its excellent cinematography, and its considerable sex appeal, leaving us with an unfocused, underdeveloped film that relies on its star power to carry it to conclusion. Like many things that look great on paper, Nine fails to live up to its hype and the result is a disappointing and disjointed affair.
To be fair, Nine is an entertaining film that occasionally finds moments of brilliance. The intricate choreography, a staple of Marshall’s productions, saves the otherwise bland musical numbers. The catchiest number, “Cinema Italiano,” has predictably been featured in the trailers (along with Fergie’s “Be Italian“) and is a song that will stay in your head for days. Unfortunately, it’s sung by Kate Hudson, who has a nice voice but is not a great singer. Contrast her voice with Fergie’s, Kidman’s, or the amazing Cotillard’s, and it’s clear that Hudson’s bland delivery and inflection would be better suited for a karaoke bar.
The musical numbers, essentially, double as glorified Victoria’s Secret ads, as each of the women take turns showing off their goods. Cruz’s seductive and sexy solo is sure to get a rise out of any hot-blooded male (and more than a few females), and if her moans don’t do the trick, then her extraordinary flexibility and limberness will. Fergie not only shows off her singing and dancing, but also her humps – her humps, her humps, her humps.
The revelation, however, is Cotillard who plays Contini’s scorned wife. She shows off an amazing range and manages to convey a variety of emotions with her two numbers. She’s the neglected wife who desperately wants her husband to pay attention to her. She’s the scorned wife who is sick of her husband’s philandering ways. She’s the sultry and seductive siren who reaffirms her sex appeal while taunting her husband over the error of his ways.
Indeed, she’s really the only female character that gets much in the way of character development. Kidman and Fergie make glorified cameo appearances. Hudson only does one number, albeit an important one that should double as a music video and lead single for the soundtrack. Cruz does well with what she’s given, which isn’t much since her role as Contini’s mistress is rather one-dimensional. Loren and Dench provide Contini with some depth, as in, they are the only two women in the cast that he doesn’t want to sleep with.
Ultimately, the women all serve as nothing more than plot devices in relation to Day-Lewis’ Contini. The film is a showcase for Daniel Day-Lewis, which might be a surprise to some who followed the movie’s advertising campaign focusing on the women. For those of you that loved There Will be Blood, then you won’t have any objections to Day-Lewis’ amount of screen time. Day-Lewis is his usual magnetic self and is captivating when he’s on the screen. He plays the tortured genius perfectly – a fanatically devoted director and writer who completely loses himself in his films and cuts himself off from everything else, including his family and loved ones. Indeed, you wonder how much acting he actually does in this movie, as he surely drew a lot of his motivation and inspiration from his legendary preparation and tendency to stay in character throughout an entire shoot. The parallel becomes even more obvious once Contini takes a hiatus from making movies. His close friend and confidant (Dench), pushes him to make more movies. “There probably isn’t a single person passing by who hasn’t been touched in some way by one of your movies. That’s your gift. That’s what you’ve been given. Use it,” she tells him.
We should be thankful that Day-Lewis decided to go back to work immediately after winning his most recent Oscar. He could have taken another five years off, like he did after making The Boxer. Instead, he decided to challenge himself by taking this demanding role. He may have nailed the acting component, but his singing leaves a lot to be desired. As usual, he manages to effortlessly adopt an accent (in this case, Italian), and, per his modus operandi, used it the entire time he was on the set. However, his devotion to maintaining his accent while singing makes him sound like a cross between the Count from Sesame Street and Jason Segel’s singing Dracula from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. He’s not a bad singer, however, he won’t be giving John Travolta, John C. Reilly, or Joaquin Phoenix a run for their money. Then again, his sprechgesang style of singing is still better than Richard Gere’s nasal delivery in Chicago.
That’s about the only thing that this movie has over the far-superior Chicago. Unfortunately, Nine hits way too many flat-notes and not even Daniel Day-Lewis can save it.