Nine is Rob Marshall’s return to musicals and the result is a bit unexpected but full of quality performances and entertaining musical numbers that entertain nearly from start to finish.
The film picks up ten days prior to the start date of Guido Contini’s latest and ninth film and the stars, the costumes, the sets are all booked or well under way. The only problem is that Contini has no idea, no story, and no script, just a title; Italia. It also doesn’t help that Contini has had a series of flops and is about ready to launch into a full on mid-life crisis. Juggling the many women in his life, his dead mother, muse of a star, mistress, sultry reporter, his past, his costume designer, and his wife, he searches for inspiration as we plow toward the start of production and he tries to bring this picture together.
Daniel Day Lewis stars as Contini and is marvelous in the role. Funny, frantic, fast talking and just the right amount of sleaze come out of him as he dodges questions and women searching for inspiration. Contini is in every scene of the film and his journey would make for an interesting film even without the musical numbers added in. Day Lewis does a fine job, as expected with the singing and dancing of the role and is entirely convincing as an Italian. The mid life crisis story has been done time and time again, but this one definitely holds up told through the eyes of Contini and is full of entertainment as he imagines his world through musical numbers full of sexiness and flash.
Now the film also flaunts a cast of successful women, though none of the women have very large roles in the film but are nonetheless substantial too Contini’s journey. Marion Cotillard plays Mrs. Contini and she is the stand out of the women on display. Her scenes with the cheating husband and her torn emotions for the man she loves and the man she hates come across wonderfully on the screen and we can sympathize with her all the way. Cotillard also gets a pair of numbers, the only woman to get two, and she knocks them both out of the park. The first is more of a vocal showcase but acts as a perfect set up and contrast to her final number in which she busts out of her shell and melts the screen.
Judi Dench has probably the next most substantial role, as longtime collaborator and costume designer for Contini, and while her number might not be the flashiest and dullest entry she more than makes up with it for her quick wit and back and forth humor and moments with Day Lewis. Though, Dench doesn’t do a whole lot new here, playing the mentoring motherly figure, but she is great at that so I won’t complain.
Penélope Cruz plays Contini’s mistress and is absolutely sexy and sultry and practically breathtaking as she seduces everyone in the audience. Playing Carla with such fire and intensity you can’t help but be attracted to her and her musical number is one of the sexiest things you will find in the cinema in sometime.
Nicole Kidman stars as Contini’s star, Claudia Jenssen, and while she does a fine job, her segment of the film I found by far the least interesting. While I understand its need in the film, I just wish there was more to it as the message is a bit repetitive and her number is nothing special and rather bland with no dancing or anything of interest going on.
Kate Hudson pops up in a few scenes as an American journalist with Vogue who is in love with Contini the man and the film and she is appropriately sexy and full of energy and Hudson doesn’t hold back. Her musical sequence is by far the most fun and the song is almost radio ready by today’s pop standards. The production and choreography is also a blast for her big number and is arguably the most pure entertaining numbers of the film.
Fergie’s role is by far the smallest, playing a prostitute in a flashback to Contini’s childhood, and I think she does a fine job of capturing the attitude of a whore from that era. Her song is probably the best in the film as well and the musical number accompanying it isn’t a spectacle but extremely effective.
Sophia Loren gets about as much screen time as Fergie as Contini’s mother and she is unfortunately fairly forgettable in the film and I’m sorry but I can’t take her seriously with her plastic face; I am not trying to be mean it is just how I feel.
Rob Marshall’s musical numbers are not what you expect as a whole I should warn though. They are rather reserved, outside Fergie and Hudson’s, and aren’t as showy as you might think. With that said they are entertaining and I think his filmmaking abilities on the non-stage stuff has gotten much better since Chicago and is far more creative and interesting; even if the musical numbers are not. The songs are also almost entirely enjoyable with a couple of real standouts as you can tell from before.
In the end, Nine is a fine effort from Marshall and features some solid turns from a bevy of fine actresses. Daniel Day Lewis is fantastic as always but the role isn’t his most memorable work of recent years. The first hour of the film also outshines the latter half and I wish they could have kept up the humor and pacing they had over the course of the whole picture. Fans of musicals will have nothing to complain about here as will fans of film in general. Nine is a wonderful look at the filmmaking process and is told with style to spare and is an effective tale about the struggles of being creative and accomplishing something with yourself and feeling important.
Nine is a B+