A FILM BASED ON THE BROADWAY musical of the same name, in turn adapted from an autobiographical film by an iconic director (Federico Fellini’s 8½), Nine comes to the screen with complicated credentials. The story, however, is simple: a famous Italian film director facing writer’s block retreats to a seaside town to try and work in peace, but is haunted by the influence of the various women in his life. He misses his mother; his marriage has lost its sparkle, and his mistress is growing increasingly neurotic. Plus, he suffers from being too easily recognised. Before long, his producer has tracked him down, and the whole film crew has arrived on the scene. With just ten days to go before the shooting begins, has he any hope of recovering his inspiration?
Many of those looking forward to Nine will be fans of Rob Marshall’s highly successful musical adaptation, Chicago. He also adapted the less successful but visually stunning Memoirs of a Geisha from the bestselling book of the same name. Both are films about the tensions between glamourous women and business-minded men, and this is the idea Marshall brings with him to Nine as well. Scriptwriters Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella seem to be trying to capture some essence of the Italian character, as the hero does in the film-within-a-film, Italia. But one is left to wonder if Italian culture can be boiled down to this simple male-female dynamic without losing what makes it fascinating in the first place.
What made 8½ work was, in large part, the strength of its characters. In Nine there is plenty of talent on display, but it’s not quite the same thing. The central character of Guido Contini needs to be introspective for the story to work, but he is often far too heavily mired in self-pity, and it’s difficult not to become frustrated with him to the point of losing interest in his plight. Daniel Day-Lewis brings his trademark brooding intensity to the role. He can certainly play tortured, he just doesn’t quite convince as the charismatic man all these women would have fallen in love with.