Monday, February 7, 2011

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare: Love's Labours Lost (Branagh, 2000)

The Play: Love's Labours Lost

Directed by: Kenneth Branaugh (2000)

Genre and Setting: Love’s Labours Lost is one of the slightly less popular comedies, involving lovers overcoming artificial barriers before they can more or less hook up at the end. It’s set in the court of the Kingdom of Navarre, wherever that is. This particular staging is, to say the least, idiosyncratic. It blends the Shakespearean text with approximately 1930s-era costumes and sets, with mock theater newsreels, and with references to and some footage of the Second World War, and with outright visual surrealism. Oh, and with numerous quotations of films and film styles of the 1930s. And, most significantly, with numerous song-and-dance numbers from the Great American Songbook. And no, I’m not kidding.

The Gist: The King of Navarre decides to devote himself to three years of intensive study, and along with his three best buddies signs a rather rigorous vow: they are going to lock themselves away with their books, their professor, and a chaplain, sleep three hours a night, fast, and -- here comes the hijinx! -- they aren’t even going to look at chicks. Total celibacy. But wait, here comes the Princess of France on diplomatic business with her three lovely, eligible ladies-in-waiting, and it is of course a race to see which of the boys will be first to break his oath.

The Adaptation: Turning a Shakespeare comedy into a thirties-style musical was a gutsy move, and this is certainly a one-of-a-kind cultural production. One wonders, though, exactly who the hell they imagined would be watching the thing. Indeed, off a $13 million budget it took back, according to IMDB, about $300,000 in the U.S. and &150,000 in the U.K. Oops.

Certainly, this is a production you have to take on its own terms. Personally, I admired its sheer audacity and thought it was kind of a hoot. But then too, much of what I liked about it was its sheer strangeness, and frankly I think I would have enjoyed it yet more had I been under the influence of alcohol, a large dose of caffeine, or some other form of socially-acceptable experience-enhancing chemical. Some of the performers excel at delivering Shakespeare; some at song; some at dance; some at being pretty in front of a camera; however, none of them are four for four. Indeed, who is? That means that there are some rough edges in the production, but I’m not sure that this matters. It is, as we say, what it is. The bad news, if you love it, is that there’s nothing else like it. The good news, if you hate it, is that there’s nothing else like it.

Clocks In At: about one and a half hours. As should be obvious from above, the screenplay is extensively modified from the Shakespearean text, which is singularly lacking any songs by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, or the Gershwin Brothers.

Pros: Zany! Audacious! Spectacular! Lovably goofy!

Cons: Unbearably corny! Preposterous! Arguably a mangling of Shakespeare! Arguably inappropriate in its blending of nutty hijinx with references to the onset of Europe’s nightmare struggle again the fascist totalitarian terror state!

Prognosis: Not for everyone. In fact, hardly for anyone. I kind of liked it, but as you know I am a man of peculiar tastes. I will say this: it made me very curious to see a traditional production of Love’s Labours Lost. I wonder if I’ll miss the Cole Porter!


jovaliquilts said...

What a bummer to read that this movie lost so much money. It's been years since I saw it, but I remember it was a hoot. And of course, Kenneth Branaugh is always worth watching. I'll have to add it to the Netflix queue.

And now that you mention it, I don't think I've seen any other version of LLL either.

Melissa said...

Interesting. I saw this play in London with my grad school Shakespeare advisor and family. I thought it was a bit boring compared to most Shakespeare plays. My advisor told me (if I'm remembering correctly) that Shakespeare scholars think there was supposed to be a companion play "Love Labor's Won" to come after it, which is why the ending is so weird and unresolved. It's like Kill Bill Part 1 without Part 2.

Michael5000 said...

Jovali brings LLL $1.50 (or whatever) closer to profitability!

Melissa: The Kill Bill analogy is perhaps apt, but I believe it was "Love's Labours Found." This version wraps things up pretty nicely with "Dancing Cheek to Cheek."

Michael5000 said...

I take that back: the L&TM5K Shakespeare consultant has backed you with "Love's Labours Won."