Wednesday, February 4, 2009

February Features Part II: Were the World Mine

Timothy is a gay student at an all boys private school. As would be expected with such a premise, he is taunted regularly, but one boy, Jonathon begins to take on a protective role. When the exuberant drama and literature professor hands Timothy a flyer for the upcoming Senior student production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he takes it reluctantly but soon finds he has talent if not in the world of sports like his peers. Timothy’s interest in the play takes another turn when it becomes clear that since the production is being stage at an all boys school, some will have to take the parts of females as they have done historically. While the majority of the rugby team is far from enthused, Timothy smiles at the prospect of getting a chance to be closer to Jonathon. Cast as Puck, Timothy’s musical daydreams and investment in the role intertwine with reality with comedic and heartfelt results as Timothy pursues the rugby-jock amidst Renaissance pop/rock and chaos. The film is a remake of director Tom Gustafson’s own award-winning short film, Fairies from 2003. Otherwise relatively new to the director’s chair, Gustafson, is a veteran in the film industry having been involved in casting for several Hollywood productions.

Were the World Mine starts off slowly and in fact, stumbles a bit in its exposition. Characters at the onset are too broadly drawn and there is not even a clear sense of who the main character is beyond being a gay high school student at a private school, notably those on the Rugby team. His relationship with his mother, at times referenced as an important one, should feel more essential than it is portrayed on screen. It is a situation that would not necessarily be resolved my more screen time, but screen time of a higher quality. The scene in which the mother is introduced is awkward at best, clearly intended to possess important subtext, but one not tactfully integrated therein. This would seem to be a result of casting choice stemming not from the inability of the actors as individuals but their chemistry together. A few other relationships suffer from the same problem. The film meanders for about a third of its running time, which is unfortunate, but not catastrophic as the groundwork is laid well enough and there is a smattering of character exchanges that will be necessary later on. As an audience member, my perception of the film’s first act could be skewed by the fact that I was anticipating more music and at that, music sooner in the film. There are teases to that end in the beginning but nothing so fleshed out as a musical number until almost halfway through.

When that musical number does materialize one realizes how much of the story that had come before is so woven into the narrative on the grander scale. I would also add that this scene is arguably the best in the entire movie. It’s too bad that other songs in the film rarely achieve the same quality and ambiance of this one-a beautifully shot, artistic, imaginative encounter between Timothy and Jonathon. As in Shakespeare’s play, all things begin to change when Timothy reaches the part in the book about “Cupid’s love juice”-wordplay not lost on the mostly gay audience members. His prop, as Puck, is a long-stemmed purple flower and with it he wields the same power to sway the hearts of men and women alike begging the question uttered in the film, “if you could make someone love you, would you?” and whether he will use that power to ensnare the boy of his own dreams. Once the music starts, the boys and girls start dancing-but especially the boys-and the town becomes swept up in Puck’s spell, the laughs come more quickly and there is a joy and anticipation in all of it that make the trip to the film’s warm conclusion all the more worthwhile.

If there were one criticism I would make of the film, it would be toward the its lack of consistent, if not faster, pacing. This ties in to my notion that despite the film having a sound structure, it was that the structure was too visible. Given the subject matter and lighthearted tone of the film, there are bound to be contrivances, but the film could have been more fleshed out and tighter in its execution. More music for example, would have been appropriate, especially as the film has been marketed as such. There is a lot of room here for further display of choreographing and musical artistry interlaced within the narrative. Finally, the film would have benefited from character interactions and dialogue that evoked a higher level of emotional significance. While the character stakes could have been amplified, I can certainly understand the desire to keep it on the playful side. Still, we have seen musical and textual poaching at play with great emotional depth across a well-constructed narrative in musical films like Moulin Rouge where it works together fantastically. I would have liked to see the director take his work more in that direction.

On the whole, Were the World Mine is a welcome addition to the plethora of remakes and interpretations of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As such it brings the worlds of literature, gay cinema and the Broadway musical together in a new and innovative fashion. Even if not perfect, Were the World Mine, in the same vein as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is a film that rises above typical portrayals of gay and lesbian characters and expresses the lasting potential of Shakespeare’s work especially in its use of different media. These aspects are promising to the world of gay cinema, but also to that of alternative and independent film.


Ryan said...

As I said, I've not (yet) seen this -- my only perspective comes from this and other reviews, so take my comments/questions with a heavy dosage of salt:

1) This seems to be a generally well executed Shakespeare adaptation, which, as Julia Stiles demonstrated several years ago, can be very hit (10 Things I Hate About You) or miss (O). I'm all for Shakespeare adaptations, especially A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" = possibly my favorite line of Shakespeare.

2) I'm surprised that, as you say, there is relatively little music; I was under the impression that this was a musical. If a film is a musical, I think a good rule of thumb is: more music = better film.

3) I suppose I just have trouble swallowing the plot adaptation - the gay protagonist is yet again an artistic introvert who lusts for the hyper-masculine-but-secretly-sensitive guy? Though I understand (assume?) that the film is light-hearted and geared primarily to a gay audience, purporting the idea that every gay man's ultimate fantasy is to be with a straight man does not sit well with me. Though you do say that WtWM "rises above typical portrayals of gay and lesbian characters," so I may be entirely wrong about this.

I hope to see this soon!

Ian said...

The smaller doses of music than I anticipated was definitely a let-down. I wanted far more than a few "staged" numbers and a girl playing a few chords on the guitar every other scene.

As I said, there are a couple of memorable songs/scenes, but I don't think you could make an hour or even half hour album out of the musical work here.

I think that while I was expecting it to be geared toward a gay audience, the depictions toward sexuality were not always so specific. There was an openness to it and the light-hearted tone did not go in the direction of sex-comedy which SO many gay movies do. I also just watched Another Gay Sequel which was painfully stereotyped, of course. Whenever I watch a "gay" movie I want it to be different. And this was a welcome departure from the genre.

I think there is also a genuine quality Jonathon's attraction to Timothy and a real sense of isolation and disbelief on the part of Timothy that he would find someone that cared in such a manner. That being said, I don't believe it is because Jonathon is straight that Timothy finds himself drawn to him. Overall, Timothy's "spell" is used as a "weapon" of understanding and reflection more than self-indulgence.

And as a result, "lessons" are learned along the way. :)