Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: "Shakespeare in Love" is Always a Delight (Happy B'day, Gwyneth Paltrow)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 215 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Running time: 122 minutes (2 hours, 2 minutes)
MPAA – R for sexuality
DIRECTOR: John Madden
WRITERS: Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard
PRODUCERS: Donna Gigliotti, Marc Norman, David Parfitt, Harvey Weinstein, and Edward Zwick
EDITOR: David Gamble
Academy Award winner


Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Affleck, Judi Dench, Martin Clunes, Simon Callow, Imelda Staunton, Nicholas Le Prevost, and Joe Roberts with Rupert Everett

When Gwyneth Paltrow won the Oscar for “Best Actress in a Leading role” at the 1999 Oscar ceremonies, few were surprised. When the picture in which she starred, Shakespeare in Love, won the “Best Picture” Oscar, jaws around the world dropped; after all, the film to beat was Steven Spielberg’s oh-so-important, Saving Private Ryan. Well, Shakespeare in Love did beat it. Years later, I still would pick Ryan over Shakespeare, but Shakespeare in Love is a much better movie going experience. The film also won Oscars for “Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Judi Dench), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration,” “Best Costume Design,” “Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score,” and “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.”

What’s the story that captured the hearts and imaginations of moviegoers, film critics, and award givers? It’s 1593, and young playwright William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is a mess. He’s out of ideas, suffering writer’s block, entangled in too many romantic or lustful intrigues, living far way from his wife and children, and he’s out of money. As he struggles to finish his new play, a comedy with the awkward title, Romeo and Ethel the Sea Pirate’s Daughter, he accidentally discovers his muse in a new actor, Thomas Kent (Gwyneth Paltrow). When Kent runs away from his admiring stare, Will Shakespeare chases after him and discovers that Kent is a she, Viola de Lesseps (Ms. Paltrow), the daughter of a wealthy commoner. It’s love at first sight for the both of them, but Viola’s father (Nicholas Le Prevost) has promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to a penniless nobleman, Lord Wessex (Colin Firth).

However, the engagement doesn’t temper their love and they carry on a clandestine affair that leads to the stage. Will gives the part of Romeo to Viola, but her gender remains a secret to him, while the other actors and the backers of the newly renamed Romeo and Juliet believe their Romeo is played by Thomas Kent. (In Elizabethan England, women are not allowed on stage, boys and young men with high voices play the parts of women.) Soon Will and Viola’s affair and secret will be painfully revealed to the world and to her angry husband-to-be.

Shakespeare in Love is light and frothy, but quite entertaining; it is very likely a delight to those familiar with William Shakespeare and his plays. However, the film gives Will such a contemporary spin that even the least informed about Shakespeare may very well like this. Now, for those without a clue, they will have to rely on the filmmaking and storytelling. As a romance, the film often works like a romance novel, or at best, historical fiction: lots of heat, lots of hot lovemaking, and a bit too much overwrought dialogue that too many times comes close to being pure purple prose.

The acting by the leads Ms. Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes is good, but not great. Fiennes’s performance ranges from overdone and pretentious to flamboyant and yearning. Seriously, Ms. Paltrow’s performance is hardly award-winning material, but that’s never stopped Oscar. Still, there’s something about the two of them that makes this work. It’s that intangible element or chemistry that takes everything shoddy or overdone about this film and makes it such a tasty confection, that you’ll come back again and again, even if you keep thinking that there seems to be an awful lot of air packed into this movie ice cream.

There are some very good performances: Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Geoffrey Rush, and Simon Firth. The music is quite good, sweet and pleasant to the ear. The production values give the viewer the sense that they have been transported to somewhere else, another world if not another time. Then again, that intangible something may be director John Madden who brought the ingredients together and made a dessert that deserves encore performances.

7 of 10

1999 Academy Awards: 7 wins: “Best Picture” (David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Harvey Weinstein, Edward Zwick, and Marc Norman), “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Gwyneth Paltrow), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Judi Dench), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” (Martin Childs and Jill Quertier), “Best Costume Design” (Sandy Powell), “Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score” (Stephen Warbeck) and “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen” (Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard); 6 nominations: “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Geoffrey Rush), “Best Cinematography” (Richard Greatrex), “Best Director” (John Madden), “Best Film Editing” (David Gamble), “Best Makeup” (Lisa Westcott and Veronica McAleer), and “Best Sound” (Robin O'Donoghue, Dominic Lester, and Peter Glossop)

1999 BAFTA Awards: 3 wins: “Best Film” (David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Harvey Weinstein, Edward Zwick, and Marc Norman), “Best Editing” (David Gamble), and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Judi Dench); 12 nominations: “Asquith Award for Film Music” (Stephen Warbeck), “Best Cinematography” (Richard Greatrex), “Best Costume Design” (Sandy Powell), “Best Make Up/Hair” (Lisa Westcott), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Joseph Fiennes), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Geoffrey Rush), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Tom Wilkinson), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Gwyneth Paltrow), “Best Production Design” (Martin Childs), “Best Screenplay – Original” (Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard), “Best Sound” (Peter Glossop, John Downer, Robin O'Donoghue, and Dominic Lester), and “David Lean Award for Direction” (John Madden)

1999 Golden Globes: 3 wins: “Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical,” “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical” (Gwyneth Paltrow), and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard); 3 nominations: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (John Madden), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Geoffrey Rush), and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Judi Dench)


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