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Stage Beauty
2004 - R - 105 Mins.
Director: Richard Eyre
Producer: Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal
Written By: Jeffrey Hatcher
Starring: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Ben Chaplin, Tom Wilkinson
Review by: Joe Rickey
Official Site: www.stagebeautymovie.com
   

Gotta love puppies!
Loosely based on the life of 17th-century performer Edward Kynaston, ‘Stage Beauty’ tells a story not unlike the one previously proposed in 1998’s Oscar Winner ‘Shakespeare in Love’ except here the golden locks of Gwyneth Paltrow and the brooding demeanor of Joseph Fiennes are nowhere to be found.

The year is 1660, the place London. Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup, ‘Big Fish’) is a big fish (pun intended) in a small pond; the Tom Cruise of the 1600’s. The thing is, he is not wanted for his acting ability. No, he is in high demand because he has physical features that make him a prime candidate for playing the roles that would go to women if they were allowed to perform theatre. He has played all the roles but he particularly prefers the role of Desdemona in Shakespeare’s “Othello.” He does all this while his stage dresser, Maria (Claire Danes) watches from backstage, hoping one day to be able to perform the part herself. In fact, on a whim, she borrows his costume and uses it to perform as Desdemona in what is akin to a modern community theatre production of “Othello.”

While returning the costume, she sees Edward engaging in an affair with George Villiers (Ben Chaplin). It seems that Edward Kynaston is bisexual. As the film progresses, higher-ups in London demand that theatre productions open roles up for women as a way of injecting life into what many believe has grown stale. This development leads to a drastically decreased demand for the talents of Kynaston, who soon finds himself spiraling down into a world of destitution and depression.

‘Stage Beauty’ is yet another example of a film that goes for style over substance. The film does indeed feature excessively lavish production design. The costumes are elegantly styled, 17th-century London successfully rendered, and other assorted period details such as the language style are effectively and accurately portrayed.

What does not work is the approach taken to the narrative by director Richard Eyre (‘Iris’). The indiscriminate way in which the film is structured all but insures that not one of the various plot strands gets the attention they deserve. The film fails to stick with any one idea for very long, instead deciding to switch from one plot development to another in a seemingly random fashion. This implies an unexpected carelessness on the part of Eyre and writer Jeffrey Hatcher, adapting from his own play “Compleat Female Stage Beauty”, no less.

The actors suffer as a result. In the lead role, Billy Crudup gives a schizophrenic performance, switching personality traits on a dime, from overly bland and subdued during his character’s depressed state to overly animated during his character’s heyday. Claire Danes doesn’t fare any better. She gives an awkward performance, clumsily progressing from scene to scene with little rhythm.

‘Stage Beauty’ may depict an extravagant style but it is seriously lacking in substance and quality with regards to the performances.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

 
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