A musical helmed by the director of the Oscar-winning Chicago and starring some of the biggest female stars in today’s cinema firmament sounds like a simply-can’t-fail proposition.
Against all odds, the film Nine is instead a catastrophe for all concerned.
Adapted from the 1982 Broadway stage play, which was in turn based on Italian cinema-master Federico Fellini’s 1963 classic film 8 1/2, Nine is about an immature, tediously-whiny film director. Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is in the midst of a mid-life crisis and can’t seem to come up with an idea for his new film, despite a cast and crew having been assembled.
In a number of fantasy musical set-pieces he turns to the women who have loved and inspired him throughout his life. There’s his long-suffering wife (Marion Cotillard), his equally miserable mistress (PenÃ©lope Cruz), a seductive fashion journalist (Kate Hudson), his cinema muse of many years (Nicole Kidman), the prostitute from his youth (Stacy Ferguson – aka Fergie), his confidant and costume designer (Judi Dench) and his nurturing mother (Sophia Loren).
The film’s biggest misstep is to believe that we would have any sympathy for the main character – a publicly adored and highly successful, yet rather unlikeable and emotionally stunted man who uses people to satisfy his petty whims. It’s just not easy being a wealthy tortured film genius who is surrounded by beautiful women at every turn; is essentially what we’re being asked to feel. The problem is that we don’t.
Instead, I struggled to contain the desire to somehow get into the very celluloid itself and slap some sense and decency into the exasperating Guido. Furthermore, Day-Lewis is not a great singer and I was not convinced by his poor ‘imitation’ of an Italian.
The glittering musical numbers are mostly effective but are reminiscent of almost every Broadway film adaptation we’ve seen before. Openly gay director Rob Marshall brings little new to his presentation of the song and dance sequences. The best numbers include those by Fergie, who impresses with her powerful voice and intense on-screen presence, while Hudson and Cruz do themselves proud. Cotillard provides the heart of the film with genuinely heartbreaking emotion, but is often at risk of becoming an annoyingly-passive emotionally abused woman. Kidman’s appearance is all about how gorgeous she looks but her moment in the limelight is quite honestly a damp squib.
Ultimately the women, who are introduced en-mass on a stage like some kind of erotic mannequin display, are simply pretty props in Guido’s self-absorbed life. They never become real characters – something that may have passed muster in the 1960’s but seems out of place in 2010.
Why women of the stature of some of the cast agreed to appear in the film in cardboard cut-out roles suggests that they never actually read the script before signing on or were perhaps dazzled by Marshall’s Oscar success with Chicago.
By the time Guido finally realises that his life is an emotional sham and that he’s never really loved anyone, it’s too late for the audience; we’ve spent most of the film frustrated by this petulant child that’s at the centre of Nine.
Nine is a disappointing film barely strung together by a feeble story, a weak script and clumsy direction. The only memorable moments are some impressive musical sequences which are little more than stand-alone music videos. Then again, if you’re an absolute musical fanatic or think you’ll get a kick out of ogling the star-studded cast looking fabulous in fantastic costumes, you might well enjoy Nine.