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"Stardust Shine in Cynical Age"

Written by Steven Walker

Romance is such a tricky thing in movies because everyone has a strong personal reaction to it. Though I do consider myself to be a romantic, love stories are a hard sell for me because most of them feel so phony. Usually the lovers fall for each not for any tangible reason but rather because they are both beautiful people. They get together because the plot demands them to, not because filmmakers have anything to say about the nature of love. When a character goes on doe-eyed rants about the power of love it is hard not to roll your eyes unless you cannot tell the difference between real drama and tripe.

We also live in a time of great cynicism about love. The divorce rate is higher than ever and it seems like everyone is a product of a broken home. It is my personal belief that this occurs because people are foolish enough to get married before they actually know each other...and the worst possible time to married is when you are both still blinded by puppy love. You have to wait until that wears off before you'll know if could actually spend your life with that person. And ironically enough, it is Hollywood's fault for making people act this way. For years we have been shown that the adventure ends with the first kiss, when in real life that is when the adventure begins.

Stardust feels like a movie made decades before anything I discussed above became reality. This movie wears it sap-ridden heart so proudly on it's sleeve that it is daring you to choke on it. It layers on thick romantic prose that would stymie a classical poet and delivers speeches on the power of love that should send me screaming from the theater. With more cheese that Ratatouillie and more star-crossed gazes that Romeo and Juliet, this movie should be the phoniest of the phony.

Yet through some magic, nay, miraculous combination of Neil Gaimen's words and Matthews Vaughn's direction, there is not a single phony moment for me in the entire damn film. How did they do it? How could a movie so gleefully sappy also be so profoundly sincere? When the heroine delivers her doe-eyed speech about the unconditional power of love to a hungry mouse, I am captivated. For those few precious moments, I actually do believe that love can conquer all despite my personal experience to the contrary.

The fact the love story succeeds despite a hundred reasons why it shouldn't is merely the first wonderful thing about Stardust. The second largest reason being: Robert De Niro. It is with such great satisfaction that I type this. I have been disappointed in Mr. De Niro for years. Most of his recent roles have been entirely beneath an actor of his caliber. (Analyze That and Meet the Fockers? Give me a frakking break.) Yet his performance as Captain Shakespeare was clearly just as much fun for him as it was for me. I was quite happy the movie before he showed up, but he took it to a whole new level.

For those of us who crave fantasy like oxygen, this movie is a cornucopia. There are witches, falling stars, unicorns, curses, enchantments, magic talismans, sky pirates, dying kings, deceitful princes, one very funny man-goat and a magically induced sex-change. I believe they stopped just short of dragons, which in this case would have been the kitchen sink and we should all be grateful for their restraint.

The only reason I'm not giving this a full five stars is because it plays things a little too safe. They had opportunities for some delightful gore and nudity that would not have been gratuitous, but would have hurt the family friendly tone. I could not care less about such concerns. My parents never censored me growing up and I feel much more well balanced than people who were limited to PG fair before they hit puberty. I maintain that a little tasteful sex and blood is healthier for kids than pretending such things don't exist.

I'm sure there are people out there who will never be able to embrace a story so brazenly romantic as Stardust, and I feel sad for them. Real love will always be more painful and complicated than in the movies, but it is perfectly okay to dream if the dream is told with such sincerity.


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