Nine is like Moulin Rouge for grown-ups. Set in achingly chic 1960s Italy, it is interspersed seamlessly with musical numbers. Based on Federico Fellini’s 1963 film 8 1/2, Nine tells the story of Guido Contini, a struggling film director with one last chance to make a good movie and save his career. Unfortunately, with one week until filming begins, Guido is still a little short of ideas. Will he be struck with inspiration in the form of his beautiful muse, the world-famous actress Claudia Nardi (Nicole Kidman)? We follow him through the build-up to the beginning of filming, squirming all the way as he awkwardly tries to dodge questions about the whereabouts of the script, and fails spectacularly to successfully juggle all the women in his life.
The idea of the film is loosely based on the notion that behind every good man is a good woman, except in this case, behind one rather lost and pathetic man are seven really rather super, strong Italian women at the ready to prop him up, put cigarettes in his mouth and shout at him when necessary.
One way in which the film unequivocally succeeds is in juggling its stellar cast. Indeed, six of the ladies plus Day-Lewis have been nominated for “Best Acting Ensemble” at the 2010 People’s Choice Awards. There was always a danger that with Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Penelope Cruz and, of course, Fergie, all jostling for position in an 118 minute film, the overall result would be like a huge group of superbly talented people all trying to cram through a doorway at once. Part of this success can be attributed to the format of the film, in which, in a way vaguely reminiscent of Chicago, each of the female characters are in turn showcased and given the chance to express their stories and struggles through the medium of song, dance, and in one case, stripping down to her bra and knickers in anguish.
The sophistication of the setting is part of the pleasure of watching Nine. This sentiment is nicely summed up in Kate Hudson’s flashbulb-blowing number ‘Cinema Italiano’, which has earned its writer Maury Yeston nominations for best song at both the Critics Choice Awards and the Golden Globes. It is the catchiest of all the songs in the film, while others are not hugely memorably. Although at times the film can seem slow, there are plenty of moments to enjoy. Watch out particularly for Guido slipping into a steamy bath with a high-ranking Catholic cardinal who proceeds to lecture him on morality.
This film seems to divide opinion between those who are dazzled by the glamour of the 1960s Italian, cheap, feel-good movie business, and those who are bored because they can’t bring themselves to care about Day-Lewis’s drink-sodden, cheating, chain-smoking, almost-washed-up film director who has no problem indulging his inner child.
Ultimately, due to his reputation for being a bit picky about what he appears in, Day-Lewis’s latest film was always going to raise expectations – particularly as his last offering was the staggeringly well-received There Will Be Blood. Unfortunately for him, this is not the seminal masterpiece that he, or the audience, may have hoped for. Nevertheless, it is well made and good fun, and you can at the very least sit back and enjoy the razzle-dazzle.