I don’t think “Nine” could look better on paper if it tried. You’ve got Michael Tolkin, the author of “The Player”, and the late, great Anthony Minghella translating a Broadway classic to the screen, that has even deeper roots as the show itself was based of Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2”. You’ve got Rob Marshall in the director’s chair. This is the man who reinvigorated the movie musical right when it was on the very brink of extinction with the Oscar-winning “Chicago”, after all. You’ve got a cast of women unlike anything I’ve seen on film before – Marion Cotillard! Penélope Cruz! Nicole Kidman! Judi Dench! Kate Hudson! Fergie! Sophia Loren, for Pete’s sake! And who do you have at the center of all these ladies? Why none other than the genius of the day, Daniel Day-Lewis. How then could all of the excitement that this incredible pedigree inspires be completely missing from the final cut?
The problem might be the show itself. Day-Lewis is Guido Contini, Italy’s most exciting internationally recognized director. Well, he used to be. As of late, his films haven’t been connecting with audiences like they used to. We meet him amidst a flurry of press for his latest project and we quickly realize that he’s got no movie to make. Before long, we are introduced to his wife (Cotillard), his mistress (Cruz), his mother (Loren), his muse (Kidman) and his creative rock (Dench). It isn’t long after that that you realize juggling all these women in his life and ultimately trying t control them like he does his films is making it impossible for him to breathe. The women aren’t smothering him though. He is doing that all to himself by failing to see them all as actual people instead of supporting players in his own life. An unsympathetic egomaniac does not rally an audience.
It is even more troubling to me though that Marshall’s direction never allows for these lovely ladies to elevate past supporting players either. It’s ironic really to watch a movie about a blocked director directed without the inspiration to make it as great as it so clearly could be. Each woman in the cast gets to sing their song one by one and each one sings of how their lives have been changed by Contini, be that good or bad. As we never get to see these characters for who they are but rather just through the eyes of Contini himself, the hurt they sing about it isn’t connected to anything real. That said, neither are the musical numbers themselves. They all look and sound fantastic and, not to mislead, are pretty enjoyable too. They just keep coming in such an expected fashion that they lack the spontaneity necessary to make them truly pop.
Like “Chicago”, Marshall wants the musical numbers to feel like a surreal layer to the characters’ live. They seem to be happening in their minds but you never feel like you’ve actually been in anyone’s head. Anyone, that is, except for Contini. Every song and every scene is about him and while Day-Lewis does a perfectly fine job losing his way, he never quite finds it either. Although history is given to suggest where his troubles may have started, his woes never amount past the point of self-indulgence and subsequently “Nine” never becomes the masterpiece it should have. Instead, this fascinating dissection of one man’s mind never gets deep enough to entertain past the surface.
Review by Joseph Bélanger