But a movie about a movie director who is self-absorbed ends up being … self-absorbed. No doubt they all had fun making it. But even for a music lover, it dragged. And it failed to capture the imagination, or produce any of the magic that the movie itself talks about.
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Guido Contini, the famous Italian director who is an instant celebrity everywhere he goes in Rome. Everyone knows that he’s made great movies early, and then, in his own words, “flops.” He’s on an empty set, trying to get the feeling again, when the set comes alive with beautiful women in racy costumes doing a provocative dance. Well, that’s a start. But he just can’t get unstuck. And the harder he tries, the worse it gets.
Now comes the march of all the women in his life, who each have a solo somewhere: his wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard), herself once an actress, now relegated to the woman waiting at home, knowing he’s with other women. His official mistress is Carla (Penelope Cruz), whom he shamelessly stashes in a cheap hotel room by the railroad station. Naturally, she longs to be seen with him in public, but there’s this inconvenience that they’re both married. A doctor in an emergency room clucks to him about movie people that have no morals, as if that represents the voice of the hoi polloi: obvious, and just as obviously ignored.
His Muse is Claudie (Nicole Kidman) who excuses herself when he realizes that he’s so unprepared that he doesn’t even have a script. She stays for a photo shoot and tells him to call her when he actually has a movie ready. Lilli (Judi Dench) is his wardrobe person and kind of personal assistant, except she refuses to run romantic interference for him, but even she manages a torch number that hails back to the days of the Follies. (The whole thing is supposed to be set in an earlier era, perhaps the 1950s, as a nod to the old “Cinema Italiano,” but that part is never quite clear, either.)
Then there’s Stephanie (Kate Hudson), the American writer who flirts shamelessly with him, and doesn’t really care about the other women around him. But finally, he realizes that he’s so emotionally empty now as to be practically devoid of feeling. And yet all these women keep throwing themselves at him, with the exception, of course, of his beloved Mamma (a frozen-faced Sophia Loren), who’s obviously been absent a while, but sweetly tells him she misses him.
And finally, there’s Saraghina (Fergie of “Black Eyed Peas” fame), the object of his childhood fantasies, who enjoys teasing a group of boys on a beach.
Guido, for his part, just continues to wring his hands, smoke cigarettes, bed willing women, and agonize about what he’s going to write. It’s the movie where nothing happens, about the man who can’t seem to find anything to think about other than himself.
“Nine” will have a limited audience, not just because there’s nobody to root for, and the production isn’t nearly as clever as, say, “Chicago,” but because none of the singers bowl you over (like Jennifer Hudson did in “Dreamgirls”). “Nine” isn’t terribly off-key. It just doesn’t soar.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.