Love's Labour's Lost Movie Review
Kenneth Branagh's latest Shakespearean opus, Love's Labour's Lost, falls into the category of an ingenious experiment gone horrible wrong. Like a bartender with one too many vodka-tonics on his breath, Branagh mixes one of Shakespeare's lesser-known comedies with the music of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin and places everything in 1939 France. Think the Rat Pack in some bad 1960s film.
Tell me if this doesn't seem a bit strange to you: The King of Navarre and his three best friends decide to put down their swords and seclude themselves from the world in order to study philosophy and fast from food and comfort for three years. No women are allowed in the court, and all of them can do great Fred Astaire impressions. Ummm... sounds a bit kooky to me. The arrival of the Princess of France and her three maidens sends the boys into a crazed frenzy. Each of the guys decides to lay down his oath of seclusion and romantically pursue one special maiden of his choice. War erupts and all four boys must leave their newfound loves to fight for France's freedom. Toss in a couple of supporting characters full of enough shtick to shake a stick at (my lame attempt at iambic pentameter), comical deception, and bake at 300 degrees for thirty minutes or until the cheesy top turns a golden brown.
The scariest thing about this film is the decision to cast Alicia Silverstone as the lead role of the Princess of France. Has Branagh been doing drugs to suppress the memory of his role in last year's cinematic opus Wild Wild West? When Silverstone appears in the film and starts spouting Shakespearean dialogue, all I could see was her character Cher from Clueless performing a really, really bad Shakespearean oral report for her English final. It's a bit jarring at first to watch the actors move from the complicated dialogue of the play to the memorable songs of Gershwin, Porter, and Berlin: Sinatra and Dino are probably calling Branagh the "biggest palooka from Endsville" from the great beyond right now. Branagh also pulls the same mistake as Woody Allen did in his attempt at a musical by hiring actors that could't even sing and dance for change on the street.
It's also a damn shame that this film doesn't work on the whole. Branagh's directing is crisp and original. The inclusion of newsreel-style footage about the King's exploits makes for smart scene changes. The entire cast, with the strong exception of the Batgirl, runs the difficult dialogue with great ease. The costumes, makeup, and set design are amazing.
The most problematic thing about the film is that it would have been a success if only Branagh had stuck to the actual text of the play without the distractions of the music.
One thing's for sure... Branagh ain't no song and dance man.