I'm a guy who considers himself in touch with his feminine side. Just ask my sister. She commented the other day that our genders should have been switched because she would rather watch an action/comedy/horror movie any day while I'm a sucker for romance movies and don't mind a good musical. Therefore, the newest musical, Nine (not to be confused with this year's computer animated movie 9), is right up my alley, but even I have my limits. It comes from the director of Chicago, a musical I enjoyed quite a bit, but this isn't nearly as good and it isn't worth seeing.
The film takes place in Rome in 1965 and follows struggling screenwriter and director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he attempts to write a script for his upcoming movie, Italia, which is going to star Claudia (Nicole Kidman), a famous actress. As the days go by and the commencement shooting day approaches, Guido gets more and more stressed due to his inability to pump out something. Meanwhile, he is being hounded by the media, one of whom is a beautiful reporter named Stephanie (Kate Hudson), and he is dealing with a declining marriage to his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard) while attempting to juggle an affair he is having with Carla (Penelope Cruz).
Really, there's not much to this story. We meet Guido, he struggles to find a voice for his next movie and then the film ends, but Nine isn't really about the story, at least for me it wasn't. It was about the musical numbers that were intercut between the story at hand. This isn't necessarily your typical musical because people don't spontaneously burst into song, like we've seen recently with films like Mamma Mia!, High School Musical 3 and Sweeney Todd. What happens is that the feelings of the characters take over and they are placed on a theatrical stage where those emotions are played out through song. Sometimes it's a happy, upbeat song, sometimes it's sad and sometimes it's Guido's own sexual fantasies that get the best of him.
So are they impressive? Kind of. The physical performances were spectacular, tackling an epic grandeur of theater that I loved watching, but the songs lack something of which I can't quite put my finger on. I'm no connoisseur of musical theater, so perhaps I'm not the most qualified to judge the music in the film, but I found most of the songs to be bland and forgettable. If you asked me to sing the songs right now, I could do maybe one (the "Be Italian" song was terrific) because the rest have already escaped from my mind.
However, as I said before, the actors don't just break out into song randomly, which successfully avoids the cringes a lot of musicals inadvertently produce, but I was not a fan of what they did instead. None of the musical numbers take place in the movie's setting, which led to random departures from what was going on and I prefer to see the actor's interact with the environment given to them, like Johnny Depp did in the excellent Sweeney Todd. I liked how each song reflected what was going on in the scene, but when you displace the actors from the actual scene you're reflecting, you are being counterintuitive.
Thankfully, the actors make up for the film's faults, not completely, but enough to make it tolerable. Daniel Day-Lewis is brilliant as always and the rest of this terrific ensemble cast are excellent as well, including Kate Hudson, who hasn't done anything worthwhile since 2000's Almost Famous. But after the first hour, you've gained everything you possibly can, yet it goes on for another hour and wears out its welcome quickly.
Nine is not a bad film and it has plenty of beautiful women, but if you're really itching for a musical, go check out the director's previous effort, Chicago or the Tim Burton masterpiece, Sweeney Todd. Don't waste your time with this one.
Nine receives 2/5