I think Nine is fascinating for exactly one reason. The film itself follows the exploits of Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), a film-maker who has ten days before he starts filming, yet has yet to write a script, or even a plot. During the ten days, he seeks advice from the women in his life, including his dead mother (Sophia Loren), his leading lady and muse (Nicole Kidman), his wife (Marion Cotillard), the whore of his childhood home (Fergie, of the Black Eyed Peas. Really.), an American journalist (Kate Hudson), his mistress (Penelope Cruz), and his costume designer and confidante (Judi Dench). He doesn't quite many answers, but he sure finds a lot of vaginas. What's interesting about Nine is that is sets out to dramatize a director without vision or purpose, to convey his listlessness through images. Nine fails in doing that intentionally, but is a wonderful piece of film because it is a film by a director without vision or purpose. It doesn't dramatize its subject so much as exemplify it.
This film is just a mess. No other word for it. Director Rob Marshall obviously had no idea what he was trying to accomplish, so he just added more colors, more quick edits, and more musical numbers (two extra were written for the film), hoping that if he pushed more ingredients into the creative blender, there would be a better chance of something working well. Tragically, the exact opposite happened: nothing in the film works because so much is trying to work at the same time. The musical numbers are lifeless to begin with, but any chance of entertainment is stripped away by frenetic pacing. The cinematography can be gorgeous, but is mostly undermined by frantic editing and no proper sense of rhythm. The performances elevate themselves every now and again, but mostly stagnate in a soup of unfocused ambitions.
Speaking of which: The performances. I've never seen so many talented actors squandering their gifts in one place. Let's take a look at some statistics: Out of the major roles (Day-Lewis, Loren, Kidman, Cotillard, Hudson, Cruz, and Dench), only one actor (Hudson) hasn't won at least one Oscar. And hell, Hudson very nearly did. For those counting at home, these six people have six acting Oscars between them. So how on Earth did so many of the performances go wrong? Daniel Day-Lewis, normally one of the best working actors, suffers from terrible miscasting. He can't sing, and doesn't fit the part of Guido at all. He doesn't even seem to try to make it work: he stumbles along, slurring his words and looking at the floor, as if fully cognizant of his performance's inadequacy. The same can be said for Kidman, who fails to exude the charisma required of her in any of her scenes. Sophia Loren is sweet enough, but skin deep. Poor Kate Hudson gets very little to do, and doesn't even manage to do the little that she's afforded. Only Cruz, Cotillard, and Dench emerge unscathed. Cruz is wonderful; by turns sexy, vulnerable, and pitiful. Cotillard has a larger dramatic arc, and plays it well, always allowing herself audience empathy without pity. The acting laurels, however, must be taken by Judi Dench, whose costume Designer Lilli is a wickedly gleeful invention.
Perhaps some of the problems stem from the material itself. Admittedly, Nine has little in the way of plot, and as such, must propel itself through sheer energy and forward motion alone. Rob Marshall (who previously directed Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha) just isn't a skilled-enough artisan to make the film work in the way it needs to. It's as if he realized his lack of substantial material, and, instead of trying to fix it, just threw a bunch of colors together and crossed his fingers.
Overall, Nine is messy, drab despite its hectic color schemes, and a complete disappointment. Moments of competent acting can't save this film from its fate. If you have to see this one, rent it: it's not worth the theater admission fee.