Love's Labour's Lost

Usually, when Kenneth Branagh decides to do Shakespeare, the results are better than ordinary. However, Branagh (Theory of Flight, Wild Wild West) is in a small slump in his career, and the last few film adaptations of Shakespeare were much less than spectacular. In comes Love's Labour's Lost, Branagh's fourth Shakespeare adaptation. As in Henry V, Branagh shifts the setting, this time to pre-World War II Europe. He also turns the play into a musical, using classic songs from the likes of Irving Berlin and George and Ira Gershwin. The final twist is that Branagh has all the actors sing their own likes, much like Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You (which, by the way, is a better film).

The King of the small country of Navarre (Alessandro Nivola, Mansfield Park, Best Laid Plans) undertakes a solemn oath for the next three years to study. He and his three friends Berowne (Branagh), Longaville (Matthew Lillard, Wing Commander, SLC Punk!), and Dumaine (Adrian Lester, Primary Colors, The Affair) intend to study so fervently that they also decide to swear off women. This is bad news to the Princess of France (Alicia Silverstone, Blast From the Past, Excess Baggage), who is on her way to Navarre with her three friends Rosaline (Natasha McElhone, Ronin, The Truman Show), Katherine (Emily Mortimer, Scream 3, Disney's The Kid) and Maria (Carmen Ejogo, Metro, The Avengers). Although there are eight primary characters and a number of secondary ones, the focus falls on Nivola, Branagh, Silverstone, and McElhone. The rest have a minimal amount of lines.

Storywise, there is not much to Love's Labour's Lost. Branagh trimmed a considerable amount from the original play in order to keep it at a decent length. Surprisingly, it is short relative to some of his other movies. Each of the men realizes their oath, but slowly fall for the women. Four couples the King and the Princess, Berowne and Rosaline, Dumaine and Katherine, and Longaville and Maria, slowly emerge. Out of fear of reprisal from each other, the King, Berowne, Dumaine and Longaville hide their emotions from each other, until they all realize they feel the same way. Love's Labour's Lost comes complete with ten songs and dance numbers that include a synchronized swim and a strange cabaret scene.

Branagh tries to keep everything light. Some of the dance numbers are purposefully cheesy to give the film its comedic air. However, the performances are where the film falters. Having actors sing is always a risk, but none of them do exceedingly bad here. Unfortunately, the when the dancing starts, the singing is obviously dubbed in, making it sound artificial. The dancing also gets mixed results. Silverstone and Lillard (who will forever be remembered as the guy from Scream) are out of place. They both seem overly eager to be in the movie, with Lillard reduced to mugging for the camera. The best performance comes from Lester, who has extensive stage experience, but he is limited to few lines and only one good example to show off his dancing. Nathan Lane (Isn't She Great, Trixie) is also one of the few actors who seem comfortable singing and dancing in front of the camera. It is this lack of experience with the other actors that keeps Love's Labour's Lost from being the comedy it intended to be.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated PG for sensuality and a brief drug reference.

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