Nine's not one; more like a five and a half out of 10. Partly inspired, partly insipid, my take on it, bit by bit:
Just call him "mistercast". One of our greatest actors, Day-Lewis tries hard, but simply doesn't have the charm (nor does he have the chops) as Guido Contini, the director battling a mid-life crisis. Guido is written as being on the verge of being annoying, saved only by his massive charm. Day-Lewis lacks the charm that Antonio Banderas brought to the sensational Broadway revival, mortally wounding the entire film. What a shame this film and his performance are nothing special considering he's made only four movies this decade.
Luminously beautiful and gifted with an actual part (something most of the other women lack), Cotillard is truly memorable as Guido's neglected wife Luisa. Once his beautiful discovery and muse, Luisa's apparently been replaced—again and again—by various other women who've crossed Guido's gaze. Cotillard's singing is surprisingly strong, making her something most of the others are not—a double threat (no one in the film is asked to dance for real, with lots of stomping around enhanced by Marshall's skillful editing).
Penélope Cruz, RATING 9/10
As gorgeous as Cotillard in an almost opposite way, Cruz gives a performance as the ditzy yet painfully sincere Carla that's so delicious it's a shame her character—like everyone's character—is not given more time to flower. She may not be able to suspend herself mid-air like Jane Krakowski did onstage, but she sizzles in her big number and touches the heart with her character's pathetic need for a man who's nothing but an appetite himself.
Judi Dench, RATING 7/10
You'll probably love her effortlessly hilarious exchanges with Day-Lewis as Lilli, his feisty costume designer who seems particularly protective of his wife. Dench's number is quite fun and her corset deserves best supporting consideration—she looks pretty smashing belting out while belted in.
Nicole Kidman, RATING 4/10
Nicole Kidman looks pretty spectacular early on, when she's suggested rather than shown; in profile she briefly conjures up Brigitte Bardot, the type of passion princess her Claudia is supposed to be. But as soon as we finally see her in full and hear her silly accent (she's apparently going for Anita Ekberg), nothing clicks. She has a strange Meg Ryan trout pout and while she may not look old, she looks ancient for the part of a movie star in the '60s who's supposed to be driving the world wild with her beauty and style. This should have been Scarlett Johansson.
Fergie, RATING 8/10
Fergie has no "role," per se, but as a prostitute who schools young Guido on the birds and the "Be Italian"s, she sings the film's signature tune. But in that capacity, she's amazing—a real actress may have wrung out a little more depth from her limited screen time, but not much. And the trade off is worth it because Fergie and her lovely lady lumps provide the only applause-wringing moment with her soaring vocals that rendered her scene just shy of Jennifer Hudson's "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" Dreamgirls splash.
Kate Hudson, RATING 6/10
I actually think Kate Hudson's vignette, in which she hams as a cheeky, sexually liberated Vogue writer who throws herself at Contini (he fails to catch her), is quite fun, and it's eye-popping to see her do the best Goldie Hawn impersonation ever as she sings "Cinema Italiano." But good luck singing that one live at the Oscars if it's a nominated song, Sweetie. It seems obvious her vocals are tweaked and the song itself is really grating. If you're going to add new song—and get rid of some good old ones—why add another song that name-checks "Guido, Guido, Guido"? Go for something a little more universal.
Sophia Loren, RATING 5/10
Loren still looks striking (though my evil side keeps thinking all the Botox has given her a menacing look, like the Jew egg from Borat), and yet she's mainly photographed deceptively to the point where it completely distracts from her being there at all. In a scene with Day-Lewis in a car (she plays the ghost of his late mother), we see her from an angle through the windshield, in a flashback she's shot in the dark and then hides in a corner and her musical number, a pretty lullaby, is hazy and distant. I don't think the stiff, inexpressive icon brings anything to the film other than a gimmick ("Be Italian?"...who's more Italian than she?), and if it's a gimmick you're going for, then why not cast Claudia Cardinale (and if she doesn't sing, skip the song)?
Rob Marshall, RATING 6/10
I like the look of his film, yet parts of it are deeply superficial. Filming the music as fantasy sequences doesn't translate as well to the big screen as it did with his Chicago, another movie I disliked despite it being based on a musical I loved. Ultimately, I don't know if it's Marshall's fault that this simply doesn't work as well as the original musical, or if it's that Nine could be one of those musicals that really can't be filmed successfully.