Strength in numbers won't help "Nine"

Dec. 27, 2009, 8:49 p.m. | By Ava Wallace | 11 years, 8 months ago

Irrelevant characters and a heavy plot are the downfalls of this promising musical

With a Christmas Day release, director Rob Marshall's "Nine" practically launches itself into the arms of the Academy. The film, Marshall's third after his critically acclaimed and wildly popular works "Chicago" and "Memoirs of a Geisha," is packed with accomplished actors sure to catch the eyes of the Academy – but falls short in one major aspect: plot.

The audience enters star director Guido Contini's life as he is beginning production on his ninth movie in Italy circa 1960. The movie has a crew and filming schedule, but no script. Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), pressured by the media, tries to find inspiration and comfort through the different women in his life. The movie shows Contini's emotional and professional breakdown as he juggles different women and attempts to make a movie.

The plot of the movie is over-emotional yet empty. In essence, "Nine" is about a director with writer's block. The basis of the plot is boring, but Contini's drastic actions in response to his commonplace problem make the movie ludicrous. Marshall creates an unnecessarily heavy movie without developing the characters or their relationships; the actors are left to fend for themselves.

Marion Cotillard plays Cotini's wife Luisa, an actress broken down by her husband's lack of attention and adultery. Cotillard perfectly portrays Luisa as tragically loyal and dependable. Judi Dench is stable and wise as Lilli, a costume designer and adviser to Cotini. Cotillard and Dench offer outstanding performances and are a breath of fresh air in an otherwise emotional movie with an unfamiliar setting. "Nine's" characters are hard to relate to and act rashly, seemingly without reason.

For example, Contini's mistress Carla, played by a sweet and alluring Pénelope Cruz, attempts suicide because she doesn't feel loved. The scenes after Carla's near death are emotional and heavy, but the audience doesn't know enough about the lovers' relationship to feel empathetic. Carla comes off as irrational. Cruz fills the role perfectly, but her character is empty, unoriginal and preposterous. The writing, not the acting, is to blame here.

Many of the other characters in the movie are similar to Cruz's. Nicole Kidman plays a lithe actress in love with Contini (for reasons not revealed to the audience); Kate Hudson plays a salacious American journalist also yearning for Contini's attention (again for no apparent reason). The acting is not bad, but the characters add nothing to the film but catchy songs. And despite a convincing, though predictable, performance, Day-Lewis's character is so ill-conceived that the audience actually dislikes him by the end of the film.

Unfortunately, the musical numbers, Marshall's last chance to redeem his movie, are easily forgotten. The main song is rather randomly sung by Fergie, who plays a prostitute from Contini's childhood, while the lead character's songs are lengthy ballads with unimaginative choreography. The songs fail to offer character development and feature disconcerting amounts of unnecessary sex appeal.

Overall, the extreme actions and emotions of the characters don't match the unremarkable plot. The audience is left feeling disconnected and incredulous towards the sheer lack of character development. Those in the audience who stuck around for the last 10 minutes of the film saw the best part of the two-hour long story: all of Contini's women gather on a balcony in the last scene to watch Contini stop crying, act like a rational human being and finally make a movie.

"Nine" (110 minutes) is rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

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