Loosely based on the Shakespeare play of the same name.
Well, this is one of those movies that you either love or hate. Mr. Otter and I adore it, but I showed it to the Barracuda, with whom I’ve been watching musicals for 25 years, and she was totally nonplussed.
It’s true, hardly anyone in this movie, which is full of wonderful musical numbers, can sing or dance at all. Alicia Silverstone is obviously just mouthing her lines and has absolutely no clue what she is really saying (but it’s still the best thing she’s done, sadly enough) and the big dance numbers are choreographed for non-dancers, mostly.
That aside, it’s got a lot going for it; Branagh set it in the late 30s, just before France fell to the Nazis, and worked that into the plot of the play, with much judicious editing. The newsreel footage is a wonderful plot device, and the settings and costumes are great.
But the best part of all? Branagh has absolutely no clue about comedy (as Much Ado About Nothing proves abundantly) but he has a genius for parody. This is a WONDERFUL parody of all those terrible musicals we all grew up watching, and still love to this day. There’s the Walter Slezak character, and the comedic fall guy (Nathan Lane), and Boyet (Richard Clifford) as the girls’ henchman. The songs they picked are excellent, Gershwin and Porter and Kern, and the dance numbers include everything you remember in those old movies: the hot tango number, the Esther Williams swimsuit scene, Busby Berkeley-esque routines, the tuxedo and evening gown number, guys dancing with chairs/photos, the Casablanca ‘goodbye forever as the plane takes off’ scene, and more.
And it’s not bad Shakespeare, either.
Watch it with forgiveness for its flaws, and you won’t be disappointed.