Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Spawn of “The Princess Bride”

SPOILER ALERT: Those who don’t like spoilers are advised to skip this.

The movie Stardust is actually quite engaging and entertaining. Director Matthew Vaughn throttles the narrative at a zippy pace, and earns added points for rounding up a cast of engaging actors—regardless of whether they’re big-named or are relative unknowns outside of England—who seem to be having a jolly good time going through their paces. It’s clear to me that the formula they’re going for is The Princess Bride fairly-tale recipe of old-fashioned romance served with affable humor and a dash of sly winking at the camera, and a smorgasbord of quirky unknowns and Hollywood heavyweights taking a break from Serious Acting. This movie doesn’t quite match the effortless juggling act that director Rob Reiner pulled off with his 1987 classic, but it does pull off some well-earned laughs and a couple of warm awww moments.

Those who still harbor ill feelings towards Claire Danes for the things she said about Manila and our cockroaches may want to stay away from this film. They’ll find more reasons to continue hating the poor girl. Her portrayal of Yvaine the fallen star (I’m sure her haters are loving that phrase) is spirited but not exactly groundbreaking, and not as luminescent as Robin Wright’s debut as Buttercup, the Princess Bride. She brings a certain weariness to the role (which is understandable, since as a star she’s witness to a myriad of human sufferings) but her performance lacks a certain transcendental quality that would have lifted it into a star-making turn. Pity that she needed special effects to help her shine (literally) in that role. It’s Tristan’s (played by Charlie Cox) story, yet she should have been the star of the movie.

Ah, Tristan. Charlie Cox is wonderfully guile-free and innocent as the love-struck boy who finds out he is more that what he appears to be. All earnestness, Charlie is unlike Cary Elwes’ farm boy Wesley; he doesn’t supply the additional sly winking humor to the movie. The supporting cast does that for him.

And what a supporting cast! Ian McKellen’s narration lends the right balance of gravitas and whimsy. It’s a joy to watch Michelle Pfeiffer having giddy fun playing Lamia the Witch who comes after Yvaine to cut out her heart. At first Robert de Niro’s Captain Shakespeare seemed like another walk in the park for the actor; but when his dreaded pirate captain turns out to be a flaming queen worried about his reputation (shades of Bride’s Dreaded Pirate Roberts), his performance takes off in a flight of frou-frou fancy. Ricky Gervais’ small-ish role earns big laughs at his character’s expense. Unlike Bride however, some of the stunt casting produced uneven results. Peter O’Toole is almost wasted as the wasting-away king (although his gleeful portrayal of fiendish, remorseless cunning was spot-on). And poor Rupert Everett seals his downfall from It-Boy to Cameo Queen with his character literally falling to his death within 2 minutes of his appearance on screen (still, he seemed to have fun doing it).

Still there is enough magic and stardust to keep the movie afloat. If you want a fairy tale about love aimed at an adult audience, then Stardust is 130 minutes of whimsical distraction.

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