Rob Marshall is the ideal director for this film version of the Broadway musical. He imbues the film with a relentless energy and the musical numbers, in the same vein as he presented in Chicago, are campily stylish, revelling in the swanky costumes and the shapely forms of his female performers. All praise to them. They attack their roles with relish and look fantastic. It's just a shame the score is so poor.
Inspired by Fellini's 8 1/2, it is anchored by Day-Lewis, playing the sharp Italian movie director Guido Contini. It's 1965 and he's in Rome about to start his new picture. But what's it about? He doesn't have a script. What will be filmed? At the same time as his creative block he appears to be having a mini nervous breakdown. Perhaps he's guilty over his infidelities and causing hurtfulness to his wife (Cotillard). His feisty mistress (Cruz) is certainly a handful and has problems of her own. His leading lady (Kidman) won't commit to the film without seeing a script, and he is being hit on by a flirty American journalist from a fashion magazine (Hudson). His costume designer (Dench) offers him advice while he tries to pour his problems out to his mother (Loren).
Each of the songs are staged as part of his imagination, so they're all performed in a lavishly designed studio, with stairs, scaffolding and props as the backdrop. And the cast enter the spirit of it with aplomb - Cotillard, Cruz and Hudson being overtly sexy and delivering in spades, with Loren and Dench providing the gravitas and class, though the Italian icon looks as if she's had too many facelifts. The standout number though comes from the Black Eyed Peas' Fergie, playing the prostitute who inflamed Guido's youth. Her rendering of Be Italian in an earthy and erotic manner is the film's ostensible showstopper and she's terrific. Off stage Cruz makes the best impression as Guido's uninhibited mistress - "I'll be waiting here with my legs open for you" she says to him at one point. She's a marvellous actress and a joy to watch here. Day-Lewis holds it all together well. He's very charismatic and sports a convincing but not overdone Italian accent. And he doesn't have a bad singing voice either.
Plaudits then to all the cast - but unfortunately the script lets them down. It never draws you in. It's hard to care about this egotistical, self-absorbed director and his travails so you view it from a distance, but with an appreciative eye. It's great to look at but you're never involved. And the songs are flat too, not one being memorable. This is a major pitfall for a musical, and ultimately why Nine fails, though the finale with all the cast at the end is a sweet wrap up. Despite the talent and care that has gone into it one is left distinctly cold. It entertains to be sure but is overall an empty experience, which is perhaps the point.