American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Shakespeare supplies not so much the source of Kenneth Branagh's "Love's Labour's Lost" as the clothesline. Using the flimsy support of one of the least of the master's plots, Branagh strings together 10 song-and-dance numbers in a musical that's more like a revue than an adaptation.
After daring to film his great version of "Hamlet" (1996) using the entire, uncut original play (the first time that had been done), Branagh here cuts and slashes through Shakespeare's text with an editorial machete.
What is left is winsome, charming, sweet and slight. It's so escapist it escapes even from itself. The story pairs off four sets of lovers, supplies them with delightful songs and settings, and calls it a day. The cast is not especially known for being able to sing and dance (only the British Adrian Lester and the Broadway veteran Nathan Lane are pros in those departments), but that's part of the charm. Like Woody Allen's "Everyone Says I Love You," this is one of those movies where real people are so seized with the need to break into song that a lack of talent can't stop them.
Not, in fact, that they are untalented. The songs here are well within the abilities of the cast to sing them, and indeed several of them were originally sung on the screen by Fred Astaire, whose vocal range was as modest as his footwork was unlimited. (Most of the songs have been recorded on albums by the British singer Peter Skellern, who can hit a note and the one below it and the one above it, and that's about it--and he makes them entertaining, too.) The plot: The king of Navarre (Alesandro Nivola) has declared that he and three of his comrades (Kenneth Branagh, Adrian Lester, Matthew Lillard) will withdraw from the world for three years of thought and study.