Nine, based on the 1982 Broadway musical of the same name, tells the story of fictional Italian film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he hits a mid-life crisis in the early 1960s. He is trying to write a high-anticipated ninth film but has hit a creative wall, a wall that also exists in his marriage. During his "director's block," he is haunted by all the important women in his life: his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), his mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz), his costumer Liliane (Judi Dench), an American reporter Stephanie (Kate Hudson), his muse Claudia (Nicole Kidman), a prostitute from his childhood Saraghina (Fergie), and his mother (Sophia Loren).
Similar to Chicago, Nine is not a break-into-a-big-musical-number movie musical. The numbers are layered in when Guido envisions the past and present with these women as part of his greater film, his life. The songs are woven into scenes of straight-dialogue and naturalistic acting. Marshall brings subtle showmanship to his musical numbers that does not alienate those who do not necessarily like musicals.
Day-Lewis is mesmerizing as Guido, a man who wants so much to love and be loved that he estranges himself from the people in his life and his own craft. During "Guido's Song," he climbs his film set's scaffolding with abandon and lust for something greater than himself. Day-Lewis always delivers in his roles and Nine is no exception.
The women are a mixed bag of performances. Dench is a pleasure to watch in her sassy, talk-sing number about musicals. Fergie is strong and voluptuous as Saraghina, singing the most memorable melody of the film. Loren's appearances as Guido's dead mother are unremarkable, except for her ageless presence. Appearing uncannily like her mother Goldie Hawn, Hudson proves for the first time that she is a triple threat in her number "Cinema Italiano," one of the songs written for the film. Cruz is vulnerable, sexy and playful as Carla. Her scene with Day-Lewis after Guido rejects Carla for his wife proves that she is one of the best actresses working today. Kidman plays the role of the movie star with ease yet her singing voice leaves something to be desired.
Marion Cotillard, who won an Oscar for La Vie en Rose, is haunting as Guido's scorned wife. Luisa is a proper woman in reality but in her musical number "Take It All," she is a woman broken and humiliated, stripping and being fondled by men. Her musical-reality dichotomy is the most extreme in the film yet Cotillard is able to show the fantasy version of Luisa in her teary doe eyes.
Nine is no Chicago. The story feels disjointed as the stakes in the success of Guido's film pale in comparison to his marriage. It can become tiresome to watch a successful man struggle at the expense of his relationships in order to gain more success. Regardless, the strong performances and the sleek, vintage aesthetic of Marshall's film-making ensure that Nine will be an enjoyable experience for most people.