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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Shakespeare In Love

It's strangely coincidental that last week's movie was A Midsummer Night's Dream and this week's movie is Shakespeare In Love. I honestly didn't plan it that way. This movie stars Joseph Fiennes as Will Shakespeare and Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola.

Will Shakespeare needs to write a play, but his muse is on vacation. He seeks a woman to inspire him. Eventually, after a misstep, he finds Viola, a woman from a wealthy family. Her father has bought her a title in the form of a penniless nobleman who she's supposed to marry in a couple of weeks.

For her part, Viola is enamored of Shakespeare's words. While everyone else in town seems to be lauding Marlowe and his works, she prefers Shakespeare. So for some reason I didn't understand (I'll confess, I was multi-tasking while watching), she dresses up as a boy and reads for the role of Romeo. Back then, only males were allowed to be on the stage. Shakespeare thinks she's perfect for the role and wants her to take off her hat. Viola runs, but goes back with a male wig, facial hair and with her breasts bound so she takes on a more male appearance.

Viola quickly falls in love with Will Shakespeare and kisses him in her guise as a boy. Her identity as a woman is revealed while he's standing there befuddled and he chases her. They fall into bed together and Viola's nurse/chaperon covers for the lovers.

Much of the rest of the movie is the rehearsal of the play, more covert kissing and fondling by Will and Viola and Will producing more brilliant scenes every day. Until the culmination with the opening performance where Viola takes the stage not as Romeo (Will has to fill that role), but as Juliet.

I know this movie won awards and stuff, but mostly I was bored with it. While there were a few moments that I enjoyed, overall, I wasn't overly impressed. Maybe I was expecting too much because I'd heard how good it was, but I found my attention wandering easily.

There were some things that made it difficult to suspend my disbelief. First, was that Viola would risk appearing on the stage. It was unheard of at that time, so why do it? I didn't feel as if her motivation was strong enough to support that. Second, how easily she fell into bed with Will. Now granted, my grasp of European history in that time period is shaky at best, but I thought women were expected to remain chaste. Even if she was the maverick that appearing on stage would suggest, it just felt wrong that she would have sex with him so fast and with so little conversation between them.

Third, I had trouble believing that someone like Shakespeare who produced so much work (and beautiful work at that) would need a muse. This is where my being a writer gives me a tough time with something most people wouldn't examine too closely. A working writer doesn't wait for the muse to show up. If we waited for the muse, I think most writers would get about 3 or 4 days of writing in a year. Nope, a working writer sits down and writes even if it's gritted out one damn painful word at a time. The real Shakespeare would have known this, I'm confident of it.

So what did I like? I loved Judi Dench as the queen! She was brilliant in the role and she was the one person/thing that stood out for me in the movie. The end, when she's at the playhouse and setting things right (or as right as they can be), is by far the best part of the entire film and a payoff for the preceding 2 hours that bored me. The queen had a sarcastic wit and a keen eye as well as a deep understanding of human nature and the way Dench portrayed this was fabulous.

Overall, maybe I was expecting too much, but I found the movie boring and the main characters of Will and Viola lacking in motivation. I never believed the romance between them or had any real interest in it, nor did I care that the ending wasn't happily ever after. (I'm trusting this doesn't spoil the movie for anyone since it's from 1998.) It wasn't a horrible way to spend a couple of hours, but the only parts I truly enjoyed were when the queen was on screen.

My Rating: 3 stars