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2 reviews, 8 user ratings

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Stage Beauty
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by Erik Childress

"So, We Can Blame King Edward II For Halle Berry?"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2004 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Why canít men and women just get along? Probably because thereís no honesty in society when it comes to understanding both sexes. No matter how many magazines, talk shows, self-help books and pieces of entertainment there are, someone will always be trying to gain the one-up on the other; may it be communally, psychological or sexual. Itís probably not popular to say but itís likely worse today than it was back in the 17th century because there are more of all of us and thus, more opinions and less common sense. Back then the rules were a bit more defined, maybe not the most pleasant, but there was an understanding. Richard Eyreís and Jeffrey Hatcherís mini-Shakespeare In Love chronicles what might have been the beginning of the end. Or just a new beginning altogether.

That woman on stage playing Desdemona in Othello is the most beautiful on the London stage. Not by my tastes, but by the standards of the 1660s itís what you get when women were not allowed to face the audience. The actorís name is Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup) and heís got the chops to put Dustin Hoffman, Jack Lemmon and the cast of Queer Eye to shame. Audiences flock to see his presentation, but his biggest fan may be backstage in Maria (Claire Danes), Nedís dresser who hangs on every word and can mouth them verbatim.

Of course, thereís a big difference between knowing the words and performing the music. Maria has taken to performing a brand of dinner theater, playing Desdemona at the local tavern. Itís clear that she shouldnít quit her day job, but the novelty of a female character played by an actual woman is enough to bring in the crowds. Ned sees it as just that and laughs off the competition. But when ego incites the opportunistic mistress of King Charles II (a splendid Rupert Everett), not only is he influenced to allow women their rightful place in the arts, but a royal decree is issued that men can no longer portray women.

How hypocrisy rears its ugly head when a position of power can be achieved. Men refuse to give up what they have and when women get to join in, they take to playing the same olí reindeer games. Watching Maria perform an open audition is almost as painful as the affirmative action that grants her, like Jennifer Lopez, to steal a more worthy thespianís role. Turnabout is naturally fair play though and Nedís theatrical training and ambiguous sexuality puts him through an equally painful process when all he has to do is be himself. But heís been playing femme gestures and the skin flute on the side for so long, heís not sure exactly who he is.

Crudupís performance here is sensational, playing off the gimmicky actorís challenge of basically mocking the opposite sex and turning it into something both dazzling and pathetic. His playful, teasing shenanigans early on give way to someone more human; an asexual limbo neither man nor woman trying to decipher which team he should be playing for. When he finally breaks loose into the role of Othello, itís his own interpretation of a man; jealous, scheming, angry and mad with power. Poor Maria, as any actor should, is forced to react in the moment and their final stage performance is anything but comical and brings us all along to shock us as if we were watching Shakespeare for the very first time.

There again the likes of Shakespeare in Love probably crept into your head and the comparisons are unavoidable. If that film was the encapsulation of a career and a time, then Stage Beauty is just an interesting chapter; albeit a very funny and entertaining one. Some may revel in the filmís own novelty of having Claire Danes play a bad actress (yes, she cries again) but when surrounded with the likes of pros such as Crudup, Everett, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Chaplin, Richard Griffiths and Edward Fox, anyone can look the part. Director Richard Eyre and his production team have done well to open up Jeffrey Hatcherís original stage production, which has a noble share of solid zingers to reflect our time period as well as theirs. I donít know if Edward II saw the connection between men and his retinue of canine or if he did us all a favor by opening the doors to actresses near and far. But I think we can all agree that for every Meryl Streep, thereís a Halle Berry thinking she has an entitlement.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10344&reviewer=198
originally posted: 09/29/04 11:54:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/14/05 Leyla Very funny and tender. Oscar worthy performance from Crudrup 5 stars
3/31/05 Alex Insightful look at eternal Battle of the Sexes. Terrific movie! 5 stars
1/11/05 Katie Heath just absolutely super(b) 5 stars
9/19/04 denny as good or perhaps better than "shakespeare in love" 5 stars
9/14/04 jim wonderful 5 stars
9/13/04 Karen Meredith Quality production but not life-changing 4 stars
9/10/04 David Land Great cast who perform brilliantly. Wonderful. 5 stars
8/24/04 Cowley Dark, funny and enchanting. Crudrup shines! 5 stars
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  08-Oct-2004 (R)
  DVD: 08-Mar-2005



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