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Stage Beauty movie poster

Stage Beauty Movie Review

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Perhaps a rip-off of "Shakespeare in Love," the Elizabethan comedy-drama "Stage Beauty" is a surprisingly interesting and mildly funny piece from director Richard Eyre. Starring Billy Crudup and Claire Danes, the movie is about the transition from men playing women on stage to women playing women on stage in the 1660's.

Crudup plays Ned Kynaston, a possibly gay actor who has spent his entire career playing women. He is an actor, but is also the closest thing to an actress that Britain has to offer. His world is suddenly turned upside down, however, when King Charles II, played by a humorously strange Rupert Everett, decrees that women shall be allowed to act on stage - and worse yet, that female characters may only be played by women. Hence, Ned is out of a job. To add insult to injury, his personal assistant Maria (Danes) has taken over his role as Desdemona in "Othello." Wow, that really cripples the ego.

Crudup enjoys many almost-insightful yet ultimately idiotic lines such as "A woman playing a woman. Where's the trick in that?" Though he is about as feminine as a man can get, he is unable to relate to what it truly means to be a woman. Unfortunately for him, once he loses his job, he finds that it is even harder to realize what it means to be a man. Crudup's performance overall is very good, although not all of his character is really explored. Is his interest in feminism due to homosexuality, or is his homosexuality (well, bisexuality, actually) a result of his attempts to act like a woman for twenty years? Furthermore, when he does swing to the other side (a.k.a. women), is this his true self or merely experimentation?

Danes also delivers one of her best performances in a while. Her character isn't nearly as emotional as Crudup's, but I guess that's the point since Ned is ultimately more feminine than the ordinary woman. Her character works pretty well, but there are also elements left unexplored with her as well. If she is in love with Ned, how could she so easily betray him and steal his part? If she always hated his inaccurate performances as females, how come she doesn't show it?

Unfortunately for "Stage Beauty," which came and went from theaters last fall without anyone ever hearing about it, it will inevitably be compared to "Shakespeare in Love," and for good reason. The two are very similar in nature, in setting, characters and screenplay. "Stage Beauty" is a drama, but it's a very lighthearted one, enough to be warranted as a comedy. That being said, "Stage Beauty" isn't nearly as good as "Shakespeare in Love" (which I never considered to be Oscar-worthy to begin with) in any way or form, but on its own it is pretty entertaining, mildly moving and ultimately an enjoyment to watch. When I saw the previews for this movie I vowed never to watch it, but low and behold the allure of free screener copies to persuade me to break my promise to myself.

While it won't appeal to anyone, those who like period comedies should enjoy "Stage Beauty." It isn't as good as "Shakespeare in Love" but it still is a respectable clone; fans of that movie should definitely check this one out.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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