A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 393 – Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in Love – March 28th, 2011

I saw this movie in the theater when it came out. I saw it while visiting Andy’s grandparents when I was in college. They were with us. And let me tell you, watching a movie with a sex scene – even a sex scene as romantic as this movie’s – with one’s future grandparents-in-law? Just as awkward as one might expect. And still, it didn’t ruin this movie for me. Yes, it’s a romantic comedy, which is not usually my thing, but it’s a period romantic comedy and it’s Shakespeare based. And I do like my Shakespeare.

Were I to be a cynic, I would dismiss this movie as pure speculative fluff and nonsense. And I am often cynical, but there is something about this movie that makes me ignore that little critical voice in my head and just run with the fantasy. And it is fantasy. It is a melding of period setting and Shakespearean reference to the point where it’s clear that this is far outside the realm of reality. And that’s the point. I honestly believe this movie was made for people who love Shakespeare. Or who at least know a good deal of his work. Sure, people who don’t know it can watch it and enjoy the romance between Will and Viola, but from the perspective of someone who knows more than a few of the plays, it’s full of references and nods, some clever and some obvious. I like those references. I even like the blatant and cheesy ones like the Stratford Upon Avon mug. It all just makes me smile.

We put this in tonight because I needed an antidote to our weekend of Spider Man crap. I needed something well written, with a solid plot and people to root for. And it helps that there’s a nice solid villain here. One you’re meant to loathe. The story has echoes of Romeo and Juliet, but also touches and tidbits of various other plays as well. When we begin, Will Shakespeare has writer’s block. He can’t seem to get his latest play written, rival playwrights are doing better and gaining acclaim, and he’s low on funds as well. He’s working on a new play called Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. It’s rubbish. And then we meet Viola de Lesseps, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. She loves plays and theater and when Shakespeare manages to write enough for auditions to be held she shows up dressed as a boy. And that’s where the trouble begins.

I’m not going to try and explain the plot in intricate detail. Suffice it to say that it’s a cross between Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night and Viola and Will end up passionately in love. And you know from the start that this is doomed. Viola’s a gentlewoman with money and Will is a penniless playwright. And Viola’s hand has been promised to Lord Wessex. It’s all a matter of money and prestige and reputation and it’s hateful. Her father pretty much sells her to Wessex with the promise that he can send her back if she doesn’t breed. And while I find that disgusting, I know that it’s not inaccurate to the time period. And it’s also presented as horrible. This is no romanticized vision of a marriage for money. Viola doesn’t miraculously end up falling for Wessex and he’s certainly not a sympathetic figure. The one jarring thing for me about this movie is the utter certainty that the only things keeping him from striking Viola in just about every scene they’re in together is that they’re not yet married and/or they’re in public. The thought of her having to actually live with him for any amount of time makes me sick, as he is clearly written to be a nasty, coldhearted and cruel man. Not an ideal husband, to be sure.

But that’s the contrast to Viola and Will, whose short time together seems magical and dream-like. In fact, they comment on that several times, with those comments ending up as lines in the play Will is writing. With romance in his life his work turns the same way. And it’s fun to watch Viola dressed as a boy, playing out Romeo’s part on stage and living Juliet’s off stage. It’s a doomed romance entwined with another doomed romance. But played out beautifully by Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes. It’s a lovely bit of work, having the two act as inspiration to the parts they play within the movie’s stage performance.

I feel like I’m failing to adequately review this movie but to be honest I’m tired and it’s been a long day and I didn’t put this in to spend a lot of time analyzing it. It’s sweet and pretty and romantic and funny. It’s got a fantastic cast and a lovely score and some fun cameos and performances from actors I recognize in smaller roles. There’s a wonderful performance from Judi Dench as Elizabeth II (though I don’t know if it was truly Oscar-worthy). And it ends with a vision of Viola’s future that leaves me hopeful that while her romance with Will is at an end, there is more for her than a cold and likely painful marriage to a man who cares only about her father’s money and breaking her spirit. It’s a sad ending for the romance, yes, but a better ending for the people in it than Romeo and Juliet got.

March 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shakespeare in Love

March 28, 2011

Shakespeare in Love

This movie never fails to amaze me. I’m no Shakespearean scholar, but I like to believe I’m pretty familiar with the works of the Bard, and this is a movie aimed directly at people like me. It’s a touching, funny, great homage to Shakespeare that uses his words and references to his works to bring the story to life.

This is a giddy fantasy set during the early days of Shakespeare’s career in London. What’s great about this as a concept is that Shakespeare is just a regular working slob (albeit a dashingly handsome one with a way for words.) He gets no respect from the vast majority of the people around him, which is refreshing if you’ve been exposed to some of the Shakespeare worship that exists nowadays (and even within the confines of this blog.) About the only person who seems to believe in him is a young noblewoman who loves the theater and dreams of being an actor. So when he is casting for his new play “Romeo and Ethyl the Pirate’s Daughter” she dresses as a young man to audition for him.

What follows is a timeless romance, and a hilarious romp, that works in references to Shakespeare’s most famous works and common themes from his plays. There’s cross dressing, mistaken identity, vengeance and remorse, sword fights, planned marriage, and plenty of wonderful Shakespearean dialog. Above and beyond all that though it is a movie about the theater. About the magic that transforms the chaos, clashing egos, financial hardship and rivalry behind the scenes into something special that can reach right out and touch an audience. Somehow everything works out, but how? It’s a mystery.

Every single second of this movie is a delight. The cast is wondrous and perfect. Geoffrey Rush as the set upon owner of The Rose theater and patron of Shakespeare? Hilarious! Gwyneth Paltrow delivers absolutely the most stunning performance of her career as Viola, the young noblewoman who steals Will’s heart as she follows her dream of being an actor. (It is to be noted that she does some of the most convincing male drag I have ever seen when Viola dresses as young Master Kemp. Usually I wonder how people could be so dense as to believe that a woman is a man, but here Gwyneth is all earnest boyish energy when in her Kemp disguise.) Joseph Fiennes is dreamy as Shakespeare himself. Judi Dench is unforgettable in her Oscar-winning turn as the regis-ex-machina Queen Elizabeth who knows all and effortlessly rules the film. This is probably the only movie I have ever actually liked Ben Affleck in. They’re all surrounded by wonderful talent from Colin Firth to Imelda Staunton to Rupert Everett.

The script is full of genius. Not just Shakespeare’s genius, but the genius of Marc Norman for creating the concept and Tom Stoppard for fleshing it out. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this and I still notice new things each time I watch it. (This time through it was a reference to Hamlet that popped out at me when Shakespeare visits a doctor to complain that he cannot write and says that the problem is “words, words, words!”) This is one of those screenplays where every single line works on multiple levels to move the plot forward while at the same time being entertaining on its own. You could probably enjoy this as just a historical romance/comedy about the theater even without much knowledge of Shakespeare. Though knowledge of Shakespeare definitely enhances the experience.

After watching this tonight I didn’t want it to end. As always. I wanted to put in the 1968 Romeo and Juliet again. Or the 1996 Twelfth Night. I wanted to immerse myself in the words of Shakespeare and never come out. As always this movie left me drained and delighted. It’s a movie that elicits a strong emotional response from me. It’s a movie I’m deeply in love with.

March 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment