The question that many people seem to be struggling with is the comparison between Nine and 8 1/2. I am fortunate in that my potentially false memories of the older film are so faint as to not have an affect on my thoughts of Nine as a creation unto itself. Although, I must admit the idea of making the comparison is an interesting one. As it stands, Nine is a splendid visual creation and features a few better acting performances than it likely deserves, all in the service of a shallow story with a central character I find difficult to identify with. The funny thing is that I identify more with the character of his wife than anyone else.
Nine opens with a press conference where director, rather, maestro Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is to announce the start of production for his next film. The problem is that there is no next film. He has no script and no idea what it will be. Guido fakes his way through the conference and escapes to a remote spa town where he seeks clarity to conceive his next opus.
His getaway is complicated by the arrival of his pampered mistress, Carla (Penelope Cruz). Then come his producer and a legion of studio hands, who go write to work creating sets, crafting costumes, all in the service of a non-existent script. Through all of this Guido just wants to get away.
Then Luisa (Marion Cotillard) arrives. Guido just cannot catch a break between the women of is life and the studio that s beginning to uncover his ruse. I must say, Guido has one bad case of writer's block!
Throughout all of the distractions, Guido cannot find the film inside of him. Rather, he fantasizes and reminisces on the ladies he has loved. It is these reveries that fuel the musical portion of the film. Each of the ladies from mistress, to wife, to sainted mother (Sophia Loren) appear in elaborate musical numbers that spring from the mind of Guido. It is also these musical numbers that give the movie any life at all.
The story is not one that engages the mind. I was tricked early on when we had the first song, one that centered on Guido himself. As he avoided giving up details of his new movie that he doesn't have, his mind is racing and saying all the contradictory things he wants to be. It is an interesting number that hints at deeper things to come concerning the creative process and his desire to make a powerful film. Too bad it only turned out to be a tease.
The rest of the numbers add some much needed spice and pizazz. Penelope Cruz takes Carla on something akin to a bump and grind as Guido listens intently on the phone. Kate Hudson as Stephanie, an American reporter, catches his fancy and shimmies and sings in an ode to 1960s Italian cinema. We get a flashback to his youth as group of boys pay to have a woman dance from them on the beach, this is Fergie as Saraghina delivering one of the best numbers of the film.
In one of the more moving songs, Marion Cotillard sings of Luisa's dedication to her husband, how much she loves him and how much he takes her for granted. Of all the woman, of all the characters, in Nine, she gives the best performance and is the most sympathetic. You want her to rise up and take action. She carries a sadness and a strength inside of her that is palpable, it makes her character feel so much more true in the situation. Hands down the best performance of the film.
Daniel Day-Lewis is no slouch either. While the character is not all that deep or likable, Day-Lewis brings a charisma to the role blended with sly humor that makes the character watchable even when you do not care about what he does or what happens to him.
Overall, the film is gorgeous to look at. There is some really nice set design for the musical numbers. There really is always something to look at. Beyond that, I also enjoyed the way the musical numbers were staged, not so much as a part of the characters reality so much as existing in the mind of Guido, as fantasy if you will. The pace is good and you are not likely to get bored.
Where the movie fails is in the story. I do not care about it. Guido pretty much deserves whatever he gets and he strikes me as a man who has bought into his own hype, blinding him from being an actual artist. All of this leads to a shallow tale of a man trapped by his own lust and not understanding when it folds back in on him. There really is not much too it and it is this that really drags the experience down.
Bottomline. Nine is worth checking out for the plethora of lovely actresses and their musical numbers, Daniel Day-Lewis for trying to give his character depth, and some great design. However, it is not worth seeing for the shallow story that does not really have anything of interest in it. Fortunately, the look and musical numbers make it an enjoyable enough experience to recommend.