Hoping to explain the crisis that is a writer/director, Guido Contini (Daniel Day Lewis) unable to do the very same, Rob Marshall’s latest project is unable to convert his previous successes with “Chicago” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” (albeit moderate in the latter scenario) into something workable. Felini should be rolling in his grave if anything at what his “8½” has been reduced to.
Day Lewis once again plays himself, incapable of adopting yet another accent with any confidence, or act with any conviction. That the rest of the cast is so enamored with the idea of this movie shows in their performances but it is simply not enough. Marion Cotillard as his long suffering wife and Penelope Cruz as one of his equally vexed mistresses illustrate what little depth that can be found in such an environment but it is fleeting in its remit.
Perhaps the central issue is that here perception is reality and it is Guido’s reality, meaning that everyone and everything enables such negative behaviour on his part but it cannot undo the frivolity of it all. Tongue in cheek is the goal, something that never materializes, coming off as nothing more than crass and reinforcing Lewis’ poor performance. Few of the cast are competent singers or dancers but they are at least inocuous in comparison to such a man.
Unfortunately as no one posesses a great depth of personal character, the overall feel and direction of the remaining setpieces stall what little story exists, adding little to the overall narrative, subsituting it with overt and frankly monotonous sexuality. To Guido, every woman wants him until of course, he reaches his necessary epiphany, one that proves wrong. More generally, these women that make up the majority of the central cast mean nothing more to him than their roles as muses, but he loves none of them in return. If anything, he is incapable of loving that which he has, a fact that appears to never change and leads not just to monotonous production values but a generally distant quality to the women and as an extension of them, the film as a whole.
Whereas Chicago used such methods to comment on the growing entertainment industry and its parallels elsewhere, Nine says nothing, offering half hearted entertainment. The employment of such a fractured chronology amounts to little, even in the long-awaited ending.
Inevitably, Woody Allen and his “Stardust Memories” with Felini-styled opening amount to a better commentary on creativity than this piece, in all its attempts to transform style in substance, it never feels whole.