Nine is a 2009 movie adaptation of a Broadway musical of the same name which was in turn inspired by Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film, 8½. Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a gifted film maker on the cusp of his fiftieth birthday. Struggling for ideas on the back of a series of flops, he flees to a remote health spa and turns to the women in his life for inspiration. The movie is notable for containing several fleeting performances from some of the most beautiful and talented women in Hollywood as well as Kate Hudson. Although poorly received by critics and a certified box office failure, the movie garnered four Academy Award nominations and in my opinion contains some superb cinematography as well as a couple of great performances.
The main problem with the movie for me is that it isn’t 8½. There are a few scenes, especially those featuring Day-Lewis and Penelope Cruz, which look like shot for shot recreations of Fellini’s masterpiece and these bought back happy memories of watching that movie. During a lot of the other scenes I just wished that I was watching Fellini’s film. The problem with making a movie based on such a well respected source is that you’ve got to make it pretty special to make people want to watch yours instead of the film you’re basing your work on. In the case of Nine, it just made me remember how good 8½ is.
The movie captures a lot of the writer’s block and marital turmoil of the source film and if anything the frustrations and fears of the central character are made a little more obvious. The ideas and themes get across well and it’s a much more simplified version of Fellini’s story. This though is a musical version and there are very few musicals which I enjoy. For me the songs have to be well placed and well written and here they often didn’t feel well placed. A few of the songs had decent lyrics and a couple of the actresses sung well but the musical numbers just felt squeezed in and out of place. The dialogue around them was generally quite strong though. The conversations between Guido and his wife and mistress were deep and meaningful as well as entertaining but unfortunately again they just reminded me of Fellini’s film.
There were two reasons behind my decision to watch Nine. The first was that I wanted to see a musical inspired by a great movie and the second was because a friend recently remarked about the sheer number of beautiful women in the movie. He was right. The film is a treat for the eyes as the likes of Penelope Cruz and Marion Cotillard strut around a stage in provocative attire but beyond the seedier visuals, the film contains a lot of beauty. It would be very difficult to make Italy look ugly and Italy in the early 1960s might just be one of the most beautiful places in modern history. The movie captures the essence of the style of the period and the little sports cars, sharp suits, perfect hair and beautiful architecture are all shot in a skilful manner which combines modern and classical techniques. Some of the most alluring footage is that shot in the style of 8½, the high contrast, crisp black and white perfectly matching the stunning costumes and locations.
It should go without saying that Daniel Day-Lewis puts in a good performance. That’s like saying the sky is blue or American’s like cheese but it should still be mentioned. I liked his accent and tone of voice as well as quiet, understated mannerisms which contrasted with the bright and vivacious women by which he was surrounded. Penelope Cruz puts in a superb performance which earned her an Oscar nomination. Like the other female characters, she’s only on screen for a very short time but her scenes are the most memorable. Like Cruz, Marion Cotillard is also excellent. Judi Dench appears to have more screen time than the other actresses (but actually doesn't) and acts as a sort of guardian and guide to the beleaguered director. She too is great. Nicole Kidman does that sort of light and airy, floaty thing that she does and is well cast as the inpatient movie star. Coming off less well are Sophia Loren and Fergie who are given little to do but still suffer behind the other actresses. Loren’s static face looks emotionless even next to Nicole Kidman’s and Fergie seems to think she’s still in a pop video. Kate Hudson gives one of the best performances I’ve seen her give but that’s a bit like saying “This is the least smelly dog poo I’ve stepped in”. You still have shit on your shoe.
Overall Nine is a film that has its moments but suffers largely because of where it comes from. Perhaps if you haven’t seen Fellini’s 8½ then the film will be more enjoyable but if that’s the case, try to imagine drinking one of those cheap cola drinks. It might be based on Coke but it isn’t the real think. The movie looks good and there are some great performances to be found but I wasn’t enamoured by the music and couldn’t separate it from its source.
- Kate Hudson's character wasn't featured in the Broadway production and was written especially for the film with Huson in mind. Honestly.
- The performance lengths of all seven of the supporting actresses are:
Penelope Cruz: 12 Minutes & 26 Seconds
Judi Dench: 11 Minutes & 28 Seconds
Nicole Kidman: 10 Minutes & 16 Seconds
Kate Hudson: 8 Minutes & 41 Seconds
Fergie: 7 Minutes & 39 Seconds
Sophia Loren: 4 Minutes & 11 Seconds
- An array of actresses including Demi Moore, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Katie Holmes, Renee Zellweger, Anne Hathaway, Sienna Miller, Amy Adams, Gwyneth Paltrow and Barbara Striesland either auditioned or were considered for roles. George Clooney, Johnny Depp and Antonio Banderas were also considered for the part of Guido.