I really wanted to be entertained last night and found this film -- that I had not heard of before -- on hulu last night. This summer, I saw the actors of Shakespeare & Co., dressed in Gatsby Era clothes for Romeo and Juliet and, just recently, I rewatched the Ian McClellan Richard III on youtube (yeah to the concept but boo to youtube as a vehicle for a viewing feature length films) which is famously set in the 1930s, I was open to Branaugh's concept.
First of all, Branaugh's ego often gets in his way. What other man works harder to make his average appearance dashing and handsome than Branaugh? If he showed off less and paid more attention to detail -- at least in this film -- he might have pulled this conceit off.
Second, I love the music of Porter, Gershwinet al. I do not love the fact that the cast contained only one passable singer. I also do not love the fact that Branaugh's voice seemed dubbed a couple of times. I also love dancing. The choreography here was clunky and simplistic. I accept that it had to be as the actors were not dancers. The only cast member who acquitted himself well as a dancer was Adrian Lester. ALright, but I accept that there had to be compromises made for the sake of the production. However, why in the world did the movie show case Nathan LAne singing "There's No Business Like SHow Business" in the currently preferred ballad-style? I'm a Nathan LAne fan and his rendition was fine, but, the song itself was ill-placed in the production. FUrthermore, the song is problematic for me. I don't simply hear Ethel Merman's shouting vibrato but MARTIN SHORT'S IMITATION OF ETHEL MERMAN'S VIBRATO EVERY TIME MY EARS ARE ASSAULTED BY THAT SONG.
Third, I hated the women's costumes. What were those dip-dyed, look alike dresses the female leads wore about? I am willing to accept that the three supporting actresses were ladies-in-waiting to the Princess of France, but, couldn't the kingdom of France dress them better than that? The men, however, looked fabulous. But, then, there is nothing like a fit man in tails, is there?
Fourth, the critics seemed to savage Alicia Silverstone as the romantic lead. Why? I thought she struck the right note for the production. This is an ingenue role. The play is froth, whether it is staged as an English Renaissance piece or a Europe tottering on the brink of war piece. The leading lady here is supposed to be a trickster. She's a gossipy "bright young thing," a lady of beauty, fashion and fun. That's what I saw Alicia Silverstone play (and I don't think I've seen any of her other movies). Furthermore, I am rather critical of American actors who swallow the Shakespearean dialog (Bill Murray in what people call "the Ethan Hawke Hamlet"). I pay attention to how an American film star (as opposed to an actor) speaks SHakespeare and I thought Silverstone's careful diction enabled her to deliver the lines well.
Fifth, on the other hand, I found Branaugh boring. He sounded like Benedict in his superior production of Much ado ABout Nothing. ALright, some of the problem is that SHakespeare wrote 38 plays (and I am not an anti-Avonian). The plays are all of piece. You find the dialog repeats itself, which is why I am often hesitant to read more than one book by the same author: most minds think in one way. I also thought the eaves dropping scene looked like Branaugh's Hamlet, but, then most minds . . .
Sixth, I did find a criticism of the small roles played by some great character actors/seasoned Shakespeareans. I agree. I seek out Branaugh films because Richard Briers always steals the show. I will grant that as this play focuses on young people and that those revered actors were too old for bigger roles. Still, more Briers would have been welcome.
After all that, I love taking Shakespeare and setting him in all manner of places and times. This is a concept that might have worked had it been done in a lower key. Rather than having the entire cast hoof when they aren't dancers, why not suggest the dancing? Or why not cast the likes of Kristin Chenoweth, who can both sing and act, and who, as a Broadway veteran, can probably dance in a passable fashion? Besides, at 4', 11", Chenoweth would have made the male cast members look as tall as they should be according to American musical conventions.
Which brings up my final point: Why the sourness toward the 1930s musical concept? Aren't the artsy types still enamored of the "homage?"