Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), like the movie Nine, faces great expectations. Contini, a world-famous and beloved film director in 1960s Rome, is a mere ten days from shooting his highly anticipated ninth movie, Italia. Nine, the grandiose musical directed by Chicago's Rob Marshall, is bursting at the seams with beautiful talent—and recently was nominated for five Golden Globe Awards. Sadly, despite all this promise, both Contini and Nine disappoint.
Contini's problem is that he hasn't written one word of his script. Plagued by the huge success of his earlier films and the sting of his recent flops, Contini is creatively paralyzed. He does his best to dodge his producer and the flock of paparazzi that circle him everywhere, and finally escapes to a small Italian villa to write. He coos to his longsuffering wife (Marion Cotillard) that she shouldn't bother herself with joining him, then welcomes his longtime mistress (Penelope Cruz) with open, ahem, arms.
As he attempts to pen greatness, Contini also balances the many women in his life, hoping to draw inspiration from these various muses. Besides the aforementioned women, he also chats regularly with his beloved but deceased Mamma (Sophia Loren); remembers with fondness the prostitute of his youth, Saraghina (Stacy Ferguson, a.k.a. Fergie); gleans wisdom from his costume designer and confidante Lilli (Judy Dench); faces temptation from American journalist Stephanie (Kate Hudson); and wonders what could have been with his leading lady Claudia (Nicole Kidman).
Of this latter list of women, both Mamma and Lilli are given a bit more substantive roles, seeming to offer the only wisdom and morality in Contini's life. The other women seem sandwiched in merely for the eye candy and rousing musical numbers. Such a waste of great talent. That said, the songs by Fergie and Hudson are two of the strongest in this uneven musical. Fergie's infectious and rousing "Be Italian" is a lusty and creative production with chairs and tambourines and sand. Hudson's "Cinema Italiano" is a retro-cool runway romp filled with high-energy hipness.
Claudia at least gets an interesting conversation with Contini, in which she states that she'd rather be the man in the big-screen dramas Contini creates. As a leading lady and as his personal muse, Claudia seems to have enjoyed little control or power. She also wisely tells Contini, "You're just appetite."
This sentiment is echoed by Contini's wife, Luisa, when she makes a surprise visit to the villa—and eventually spies her husband's supposedly ex-mistress there as well. Luisa's musical lament about being overshadowed by her husband's professional power and personal appetites is heart-breaking. The other more realized female character is Carla, Contini's mistress, though even she is mostly raw need and gyration.
Contini himself is rather frenetic, burnt-out, and getting a bit sick of himself. He's also torn. He wants to deliver a stellar script, but fears he doesn't have anything else to say. He wants to love his wife well, but is continually tempted by other women. He wants to embody the larger-than-life persona the media and the public have made him out to be, but secretly fears he's all smoke and mirrors.
The acting is all superb from this accomplished cast. As is the singing, all performed by the actors themselves. It's the script and the pacing that undermine Nine's success. Perhaps that's part of the challenge of remaking a Broadway musical (the original debuted in 1982 and the revival in 2003, both Tony Award winners) that's a remake of a big-screen film (the 1963 Fellini Oscar-winner 8½). It feels like too much of the plot has gotten lost along the way. Or been sacrificed for big musical numbers.
At one point in Nine a character comments that "style is the new content" in the current cinema scene. Marshall and company seem to have take that advice to heart. There's plenty of style here: beautiful actresses in lavish costumes, breathtaking Italian scenery, well-staged musical numbers. But the sparse plot feels like an after-thought, tucked in between the beauty in odd, uneven snatches.
When he's not remembering or cavorting with scantily clad women (there's a lot of heaving cleavage and seductive dancing throughout), Contini has an odd relationship with the church—specifically, the Roman Catholic church. Desperate to get his creative drive back, Contini consults with the cardinal, who simply tells him to be more Catholic. This after the cardinal requests an autographed picture of Contini's leading lady, Claudia. A priest admits that though publicly the church condemns movies, privately the priests enjoy them greatly, even re-enact them as plays. This is an interesting, though certainly not fully explored, acknowledgment of the church's tenuous relationship with the arts over recent decades.
In the end, unfortunately, there's too much that's not fully explored—or explained. I'm afraid Contini hasn't yet relocated his creative genius.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- What do each of the female characters represent or add to Contini's life? Why does he consider each a muse?
- What do you think is blocking Contini's creativity?
- Contini is often visited by a younger version of himself. Why? What do you think his younger self represents, or what does he need from this younger version of himself?
- The cardinal tells Contini that imagination is God's garden. What do you think of this statement?
- What do we see in Contini of the dangers of power and success? What changes do we see in Contini by the end of the film?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Nine is rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking. There's a lot of lustiness in this film: scantily clad women dancing around, marital infidelity, memories of a prostitute Contini gained an education from in his youth. Penelope Cruz performs an especially steamy song/dance early in the film.
Photos © 20th Century Fox
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