Nine opens Friday throughout the Triangle
Revisiting the musical genre for the first time since his Oscar-winning Chicago, director Rob Marshall adapts another Broadway production based on previous work with Nine. The film is based on the Tony-award winning musical, itself derived from an Italian play by Mario Fratti inspired by Federico Fellini's 1963 autobiographical film, 8 ½. Even if the pedigree for Marshall's film is as muddled as a Fellini storyline, one thing is crystal clear: Nine is a bombastic mess.
Daniel Day-Lewis plays esteemed 50-year-old Italian director Guido Contini, now suffering a midlife crisis and bout of writer's block just as filming is poised to begin on his epic comeback, tentatively titled Italia. As Guido tries to jumpstart his creative juices, he is forced to confront his chaotic personal life by reconciling a bevy of formative women in his life. They include Luisa (Marion Cotillard), his diffident wife; Carla (Penélope Cruz), his comely (and cuckoo) mistress; Claudia (Nicole Kidman), his platinum-blond film-star muse; Lili (Judi Dench), his confidant and costume designer; Stephanie (Kate Hudson), an American Vogue fashion reporter; Saraghina (Stacy Ferguson, a/k/a Fergie), a mondana from his youth; and his mother (Sophia Loren).
Set in 1965, Nine aims to present a multilayered, contemplative examination of life, love and craft, much like its Fellini forbearer. In actuality, the screenplay by Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella depicts the philandering, chain-smoking, sports-car driving Guido as a monumental bore who spends more time lamenting his inability to make new films than convincing us he was ever capable of crafting one.
There is a glint in Day-Lewis' eye that suggests a great actor aching to unleash his talents but not quite sure how with the material he's been given. Even still, Guido's accent—particularly when singing—sounds weirdly like The Count from Sesame Street. That is better than Dench, I suppose, who doesn't even try; her brogue is as Italian as Chef Boyardee.
The already lackluster narrative interludes feel like mere bridges to the next musical offering. With the occasional exception of Luisa, the rest of the female characters exist mainly for their particularized songs, most of them burlesque, kitschy spectacles that are a bit like watching a Cirque du Soleil show sans the acrobatics. Indeed, this disposable use of seven A-list actresses is emblematic of 2009's woeful roster of female film roles.
The only thing worse than Guido's chronic, self-induced malaise is Maury Yeston's ear-gouging lyrics. The original Broadway numbers are grueling enough, including the treacly "My Husband Makes Movies" and a garish production of "Be Italian" featuring Fergie. What's more, Yeston penned three new songs for the film, including Hudson's retched "Cinema Italiano" (sample lyrics: "Those scenes I love to see / From Guido's POV / There's no one else with his unique director's vision").
Forget Guido—those responsible for Nine were apparently the ones afflicted with a bad case of writer's block. In their case, the cure is worse than the disease.