Nine is a sleek, sexy musical starring talented people singing about things that matter so little and with such lack of interest that, at times, I wished it wasn’t a musical. I hoped, instead, that it was a short film about an Italian director in the 1960s and the various relationships in his life, as he struggles to make a movie — or even write its screenplay. That’s the story of Nine, in a nutshell, and would make for a fabulous movie. In fact, it did, back when it was called 8 1/2, on which Nine is based.
Actually, that’s not even the entire story behind how Nine has finally been released as a 2009 film. It was a play in the 80s, and was revived in 2003, starring Antonio Banderas in the lead role. Banderas doesn’t play the role here, however, as Daniel Day-Lewis, fresh off his well-deserved Oscar for There Will Be Blood takes the part. An Englishman playing an Italian — sure, why not? When you’re someone of Day-Lewis’ talent, you can do what you want. He pulls it off, too, and even gets a couple of musical numbers in which he sings with that fake accent.
Day-Lewis plays Guido Contini, who is now just about 50 years old, and is beginning to feel it. He tells us that he still has the mind of a 10-year-old, but feels his body breaking beneath him. He’s a famous director, having many hits to his name. His last two films were duds, “flops” in his own words, and his next begins filming in just 10 days. He hasn’t yet even written a script, though, and his time is running out.
I don’t know if he figures leading a lie of a life would help matters, but that is what he does. He decides that it would be a good idea to have an affair with a woman named Carla (Penélope Cruz), despite being happily married to another woman named Luisa (Marion Cotillard). Much of the film is dedicated to scenes where he spends time with one or the other, or attempts to cover up the trail of lies he has been creating for many years. Little attempt is made at actually writing the film that goes into production in just a matter of days.
Along with an already star-studded cast, further “known names” include: Nicole Kidman, playing Claudia, an actress; Kate Hudson, as a Vogue reporter — a role which was made up just for this film, and was not in the Broadway play; and Dame Judi Dench, as the costume and makeup artist for the film that Guido is set to make. As you’ll probably agree, this is a very talented and attractive cast, and it’s therefore Rob Marshall’s job to give them all time to shine. And shine they do, taking away from the story each time they’re given a solo.
Each one of the principal cast members gets his or her own song. A couple of them, Day-Lewis and Cotillard, get two songs. These are all pretty much solos, and the story is interrupted so that the actors can sing. Instead of giving us insight, enhancing the story, or progressing it along, these songs boggle it down, hindering it from making an impact. We keep being drawn out of an interesting storyline so that everyone can get their moment(s) to shine. It’s irritating after a while.
This isn’t to say that the actors can’t sing or perform. They most certainly can. Marshall directed the award winning Chicago, and both Cotillard and Kidman have been in musicals before. Surprisingly — although perhaps not so surprising when you consider the man we’re talking about — Day-Lewis can belt out quite the tune. So can Cruz, Hudson and Dench, but it continues to amaze me what this man can do. And he does it all while in a seemingly authentic Italian accent, too; everyone else gets to keep their natural accent.
None of the songs are terribly memorable, and, since they keep interrupting the story for a star’s “hey, look at me” moment, that’s crucial. If they’re going to be distractions that serve little purpose, they had better at least be worth listening to. The choreography was more enjoyable than the music to which it’s set. The performances are often sensual, with the film pushing against its PG-13 constraints with every second song. But the music and the lyrics themselves were just kind of bland.
Of the actresses, the most memorable performances come from Cotillard and Cruz, Guido’s lovers. As often happens in this kind of situation, they both love him, but he causes that feeling to disappear with his actions. Or perhaps he just makes it harder for them; watch the movie to find out, if you really care. Each actress gets a few very strong scenes outside of their own songs, and if the songs didn’t happen at all, I could see them working perfectly well in a straight retelling of 8 1/2.
Nine is kind of a mess, but it’s a mess that features some gorgeous eye-candy in terms of the actors, the sets, and the costumes. You’re much, much better off watching 8 1/2, as the story isn’t so frequently interrupted by unimpressive musical numbers, but if you’re a fan of the cast and want to see Daniel Day-Lewis put on and sing with an Italian accent, I suppose it’s not a terrible waste of time. It just should have been better with all of the talent behind it, and it definitely should have re-tuned the Broadway musical numbers.