Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Movie Log: As You Like It

The Wife and I have been fans of Kenneth Branagh's movies since about Henry V (though he's been wandering in the wilderness a bit lately), so we were interested when we saw he was doing another Shakespeare adaptation. As You Like It didn't get a theatrical release -- it was originally on HBO a month or so ago -- but it still looks like a "real" movie, and it's better than Branagh's last Shakespeare adaptation (the interesting but half-baked Love's Labor Lost, reimagined as a '30s movie musical).

Oh, and Bryce Dallas Howard is totally gorgeous. I know who she is, and have seen her name for a couple of years now, but I don't think I've seen her act before. She also has an awesome head of flaming red hair in this movie, which never hurts.

Once again, here I have to admit I'm not a huge Shakespeare snob; I don't know his comedies well at all, and this is the first time I've seen an As You Like It. Given that, I liked this one very much, but I can't compare it to any other productions.

It's set in 19th century Japan for no obvious reason...and without any of the main characters (or more than one or two minor characters) actually being cast as Japanese. (Oddly, though, we do get a black Orlando and whats-his-name his brother, which makes the racial oddity even worse.) I'm generally for interesting new settings for old works and for race-blind theatrical casting, but sometimes A plus B equals weird. And that's the case here. It feels a bit like a bunch of Westerners have driven out the locals and are squatting somewhere randomly in Japan.

Once you get over that, the plot flows pretty well. Most of the movie takes place in "the forest of Arden," which means everybody is either lounging on the ground or standing on one of those very picturesque Japanese long bridges-over-what-looks-like-a-field. I guess that saved on sets, but the tendency of Shakespearean productions to think "Well, there were hardly any sets in Shakespeare's time, so it's Historically Accurate for us not to have sets" does annoy me on occasion. Film is much more visual than the stage, and this movie ends up taking place in disconnected places that might as well be one backlot. We never get a sense of how the various locations connect to each other or how far away anything is from anything else.

Well, I'm mostly quibbling here, because I don't want to run through a Shakespeare plot. This was a pleasant movie, and I didn't need to take a five-minute running start to start understanding Shakespearean dialogue, as often happens. I wish Branagh had been in the movie as well as directing it, but that's a minor point. This is a classy movie that doesn't choke on its own classiness, and it succeeds at what it sets out to do.

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