Loading...

Shakespeare for Dummies 

Much ado about little in Branagh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost

Wednesday, Jun 7 2000
Comments

Kenneth Branagh‘s Love’s Labour‘s Lost mates one of Shakespeare’s frothier romantic comedies with the ‘30s musical, and on the face of it they make an attractive couple. Both traffic in the rush offered by flirtation and playing hard to get; both breeze along with offhand insouciance, underlit by a mature regret over the costs of love deflected or deferred. If only Branagh, whose career to date suggests a burning ambition to become Olivier for the masses, weren’t hobbled by a terror that never bothered Shakespeare, Cole Porter or Irving Berlin -- the fear of flying high above the heads of a mass audience.

Perhaps on the rebound from his interminable Hamlet, Branagh has cut, pasted and aggressively abridged Love‘s Labour’s Lost, and piled it high with fancy visuals to make sure we get the drift. For starters, he seems nervous about trusting Shakespeare‘s text to set up the play’s rather flimsy premise, in which the King of Navarre (Alessandro Nivola) and his three pals (played by Branagh, Matthew Lillard and Adrian Lester) vow to forswear the company of women for three years, the better to study philosophy. Updated to 1939, the film opens trickily with a brisk precis, proffered in the chipper syllables of Britain‘s Pathe news, which strove to keep the moviegoing public’s upper lip stiff as World War II bore down. Then the movie blazes into full ‘30s pomp with the arrival of four lovely distractions of the flesh, spearheaded somewhat implausibly by Alicia Silverstone, way out of her depth but gamely squeaking away like Minnie Mouse as the Princess of France.

The rest is mostly a strenuously lighthearted recitation of the fightflight dating strategies of four couples in the making, interrupted at frequent intervals by bursts into song and dance, and complicated by a crossed-wires subplot whose only highlights are the appearance of Nathan Lane as the vaudeville clown Costard, and Richard Briers and Geraldine McEwan as the king’s elderly tutors, Nathaniel and Holofernia. For all their advanced years, Briers and McEwan are still good for a song and dance, and both know how to talk Shakespeare without yelling. Not so the rest of the cast, who declaim their lines and warble away with such pedagogic zeal they appear to be lip-synching for the hearing-impaired. When it comes to the frequently injected dance numbers, they fling themselves around for all the world like the Village People freely interpreting Top Hat, with the result that the movie more closely resembles a summer-camp revival of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers than any movie with Fred and Ginger in it. One pleasantly surprising exception is Natascha McElhone, a young woman blessed with such marble beauty that all she‘s had to do thus far (as the young Clarissa Dalloway in Mrs. Dalloway and the love interest in The Truman Show) is sit around and bat her beautiful eyelashes. The tall, willowy, emerald-eyed actress is born to look regal in sequined ’30s frocks, and she‘s a treat as Rosaline, the tart-tongued lady in waiting who won’t admit to having fallen in love.

Related Stories

  • Hearsts v. Chandlers

    Los Angeles has never been particularly renowned as a town conducive to festival-grade professional Shakespeare. Whether it’s the city’s proximity to Hollywood and its blind ambivalence to what is in its own backyard, the collective trauma of force-fed, high school field-trip Bard, or a simple scarcity of seasoned directors and...
  • Week of July 31st

    It's in the stars.
  • Queen Lear?

    Considered one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies by luminaries like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley, King Lear has also been taken to task for its wanton cruelty by the likes of Samuel Johnson, and writers Charles Lamb and A.C. Bradley have deemed it nearly impossible to be properly represented...
  • Shakespeare and Dance on the Big Screen: Your Weekly Movie To-Do List

    Friday, June 6 Friday marks the opening night of Dance Camera West, the 13th annual dance media film festival, with a free live performance at 7:30 p.m. followed by a block of international short films starting at 8 p.m. for $5. Both take place at the Music Center. The lineup includes...
  • Shakespeare With Hipster Puppets

    "Shakespeare with puppets" may sound like a kiddie gimmick, but the Bristol Old Vic's A Midsummer Night's Dream, now at the Broad Stage, should not be so easily dismissed. The mortal characters are purely human, while the fairy characters are portrayed using masks and puppets created by South Africa -...

As to Branagh, who plays Rosaline‘s suitor, Berowne, there’s an eagerness to please in his performance that goes beyond his character, a generous spirit who understands from the get-go that neither he nor the other young bloods will be able to stick to their vow of celibacy. Branagh‘s round, boyish, open face fairly pleads to be received into the fleshpots of pop. His career choices, both as actor and as director, have been dictated as much by his desire to become a Hollywood insider as by his much-publicized love affair with the Bard. Only in Much Ado About Nothing did he manage to fuse the two without coming off as trying too hard. For all its forays into black-and-white faux news footage, Love’s Labour‘s Lost feels like yet another theater piece grafted with Cinema. Only in the final act, when a royal death, a war, and a subdued 12-month pledge of chastity shift the tone to a more serious key, does the movie calm down and -- blowing a wistful kiss to Casablanca -- begin to tell us something about the urgent nobility of love in desperate times.

Reach the writer at etaylor@laweekly.com

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Wed 20
  2. Thu 21
  3. Fri 22
  4. Sat 23
  5. Sun 24
  6. Mon 25
  7. Tue 26

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office Report

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Slideshows

  • 20 Neo-Noir Films You Have to See
    The Voice's J. Hoberman was more mixed than most on Sin City when he reviewed it in 2005, but his description of the film as "hyper-noir" helps explain why this week's release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has us thinking back on the neo-noir genre. Broadly speaking, neo-noir encompasses those films made outside of film noir's classic period -- the 1940s and '50s -- that nevertheless engage with the standard trappings of the genre. As with most generic labels, there isn't some universal yardstick that measures what constitutes a neo-noir film: Where the genre might begin in the '60s with films like Le Samourai and Point Blank for one person, another might argue that the genre didn't find its roots until 1974's Chinatown. Our list falls closer to the latter stance, mainly featuring works from the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. Though a number of the films mentioned here will no doubt be familiar to readers, it's our hope that we've also highlighted several titles that have been under-represented on lists of this nature. --Danny King

    See also:
    35 Music Documentaries Worth Seeing

    15 Documentaries That Help You Understand the World Right Now
  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.

Now Trending