Nine: All Fosse All the Time
Take All That Jazz and stick some more cigarettes in the actors' mouths (who would've thought that was even possible?); add some snazzy 1960s suits, some breathtaking Italian locations, the rough outline of the Tiger Woods scandal, lots of women in period foundation garments; hand it all to the director of the Academy Award–winning film Chicago; and you've got Nine, Rob Marshall's screen adaptation of the 1982 musical adaptation of an Italian stage adaptation of Federico Fellini's autobiographical film 8½.
I know, right?
Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a film director and he's blocked; he's an artist, you see, and we can tell because he smokes a lot and sticks his dick in a lot of lovely ladies and ducks out of press conferences because—the rules?!?!—the rules don't apply to Guido because he's an artist! An artist with an artistic temperament who's having an artistic crisis, thank you very much! Guido can't seem to write the screenplay for his next film, which is a problem because the set has been built, the costumes have been designed, and the cast—which consists entirely of Nicole Kidman's boobs—has been assembled.
Guido's problem is that he loves women. His mother, his muse, his mistress, and his wife—he loves them in roughly that order. And, this being the 1960s and Guido being Italian and an artist, his love for women and his inability to keep it in his pants—or to lay off the smokes—aren't signs of Tiger Woods/Mark Sanford/Bill Clinton–style caddishness, but proof that he is a deep and soulful (and precancerous) artist with a capital A.
Marshall and Day-Lewis work hard to make us care about Guido and his artistic crisis/temperament, but this movie belongs to the actresses. Each gets a big number—the muse (Kidman), the mistress (Penélope Cruz), the wife (Marion Cotillard), the whore (Fergie—a revelation), the reporter (Kate Hudson—also terrific). And, as in Chicago and All That Jazz, these musical numbers—which take place in an alternate, heightened reality—remove us from and comment on the action. While Guido directs small art-house movies, his imagination, like Marshall's, is all Fosse all the time. Nine's musical numbers take place, it seems, on the soundstage in Guido's cigarette-stained head—a head so packed with musical-theater conventions that you wonder why he doesn't just direct a movie musical to overcome his block. Guido's inner musical is a lot more interesting than the film we see Guido working on at the end, when he overcomes his artistic block by... growing a beard.
Marshall's stagings are terrific and thrilling. Some will accuse him of ripping off Fosse's movie musicals, but that's a false charge. Fosse may have invented the language, but Marshall deserves credit for keeping it alive.