Saturday 25 January 2020

Movie Review: Nine (2009)

A musical drama, Nine explores middle age creative block in a story about a film director and the women in his life.

Rome, 1965. Famed Italian director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is supposed to start shooting his next movie, but has no script and no ideas. Haunted by the failure of his two most recent films, he escapes to an Anzio hotel to try and find inspiration. He lies to his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard) and is joined by his mistress Carla (Penélope Cruz). Costume designer Liliane (Judi Dench) tries to help, while Guido has visions of his mother (Sophia Loren) and memories of his childhood, when he was entranced by prostitute Saraghina (Fergie).

After reporter Stephanie (Kate Hudson) tries to seduce Guido, the last opportunity for a creative boost may be his regular leading lady Claudia Jenssen (Nicole Kidman). But with Luisa's patience with her philandering husband finally running out, salvaging Guido's latest project will prove difficult.

An adaptation of the play by Arthur Kopit which in turn was inspired by Fellini's (1963), Nine enjoys a stellar cast but is hampered by uninspired music and a consistently dour tone. The songs by Maury Yeston feature lyrics where clunky competes with obvious, and while Rob Marshall directs with panache, the script co-written by Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella gives him limited material to work with.

The film is entirely bogged down by Guido's doldrums and never generates narrative momentum. The tone is set early, the film structured as one-woman-at-a-time singing about her influence over the deeply flawed and egotistical director. Mistress, wife, confidant, mother, prostitute-from-childhood, muse: nothing helps him gain traction on his latest project, but he never misses an opportunity to light another cigarette.

The cast members bring a mix of interesting accents to the singing, for example Day-Lewis singing in an Italian clip, raising curious questions as to why anyone would sing in a language other than their mother tongue when entirely alone.

But despite several structural weaknesses, Nine benefits from a sparkling cast in good form. Guido is probably one of Day-Lewis' easier characters to embody, but he brings his reliable depth and dedication to the role. The many women rotating in his orbit are brought to life by energetic performances from Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, and Judi Dench, although none of them receive substantial screen time.

In an awkward role obviously bolted on to the movie adaptation, Kate Hudson appears unsure what her character is supposed to be doing, but delivers Cinema Italiano with plenty of verve. The better musical numbers also include Cruz's seductive A Call From The Vatican and Cotillard's angry Take It All.

Nine carries a haughty self-rating, but is more of a middling effort.

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