Year of Release: 2009 Directed Rob Marshall. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Penlope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren, and Nicole Kidman.
The famous Italian film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) has hit a road block. Having successfully directed eight films, he is struggling tremendously to make his ninth movie. He is also perturbed, because his last two movies were flops, but his first six were wonderful successes that have endeared him to the public. Guido does not want to disappoint them, so he continues to playfully evade any questions concerning the topic of his next film.
Guido clearly has ideas for his film; he has declared the title will be Italia. The film will detail the life of Italy, showcase what it means to be Italian, and star his leading lady Claudia (Nicole Kidman) the most famous Italian actress. However, despite all of this, Guido cannot come up with a script. In order to find inspiration, he visits and recalls the women who have influenced his life. He thinks of his muse Claudia to no avail. He talks to his costume manager Lilli, (Judi Dench) calls his wife Louisa, (Marion Cotillard) visits his mistress Carla, (Penelope Cruz) remembers the prostitute Saraghina (Fergie) who introduced him to sex, flirts with a young reporter, (Kate Hudson) and fondly remembers his mother. (Sophia Loren)
Interactions with these women, whether real or in Guido’s imagination, do not help him write his script. As a matter of fact, the growing tension between him and Louisa over Carla’s presence adds increased tension to his life. I did appreciate that the film sides with Louisa, showing that Guido’s fickle emotions are responsible for their failed relationship. Through the timing of the flashbacks, the film even implies that Guido’s early sexual escapades played a part in developing his amoral love life.
However, the film tries to have its cake and eat it, by also suggesting that sexual immorality, while regrettable, is an inevitable part of life. In Nine, freewheeling sex is prevalent not only among those in the arts, but even among the Catholic clergy. Who therefore, are hypocrites to condemn others for lust. Saraghina’s number “Be Italian” tells Guido to embrace his true nature, which according to her involves adultery. The movie does not disagree.
Kidman and Cotillard are phenomenal. Both of them have excellent voices, and they perform all their numbers with aplomb. They clearly enjoy their roles, making them fun to watch. The breathe life into every scene that they are in, and when Kidman finally appears, it is understandable why she is Guido’s muse. Cotillard is very empathetic as Guido’s long suffering wife, and she makes the viewer sympathize with her character. Dench is a very talented actress, and she plays her role well, but her singing, while fine, leaves something to be desired, especially compared with her acting chops . Hudson and Fergie are forgettable as sultry, sexy blondes who try to seduce Guido. Loren’s part is too small for her to make much of an impact on the film.
Marshall’s decision to film the musical numbers as fantasy show pieces, which worked flawlessly in Chicago, seems forced and unnatural here. Some of the numbers work well as fantasy sequences. The opening number and “Guido’s Song” occur solely in Guido’s imagination. Other songs, such as Fergie’s seductive “Be Italian” and Kidman’s advice to Guido “Unusual Way,” occur solely in the real world. Cutting back and forth between an imagined stage performance and the actual story for these numbers is distracting. The two reasons that the fantasy staging of songs worked in Chicago were that all the numbers, except “All That Jazz,” occurred in Roxie’s imagination, and the entire movie was about Roxie’s obsession and fantasizing over show business. Thus a fantasy stage for the musical performances worked well. Since “All That Jazz” was not part of Roxie’s fantasy, it occurred in the real world. Nine is not about fantasies of performing on stage, but a struggling director’s effort to revive his career.
Marshall also used black and white for filming the flashbacks. This worked well at first, but then he continued to use the black and white segments for sequences that took place in the present day and for some of the fantasy songs. During “Cinema Italiano,” Marshall switched between color and black and white almost every phrase of the song. The black and white segments ultimately become frustrating, pointless, and distracting, detracting from the current scene and from the few times when black and white photography is used well during the flashbacks.
The entire film is very uneven. Marshall’s direction works for a few of the scenes, but is very sloppy in others. The dichotomy between accepting adultery and condemning it, along with the clergy bashing, detracts greatly from the film. The choreography and the songs are enjoyable, but do not salvage the film, which could have been an inspiring musical experience.
Content Advisory: Very negative portrayal of Catholic clergy, highly risqué milieu throughout, skimpy costuming with partial nudity, a striptease (no explicit nudity), implied sex, much smoking, and mild profanity. MPAA rating: PG-13
Suggested Audience: Adults with discernment.
Personal Recommendation: C-