Forget about High School Musical. The real teen movie musical to see is Were the World Mine, a favorite of the gay film festival circuit that is now seeing wider release.
While Disney’s HSM franchise exploits the shiny pop pleasures of high school, Were the World Mine offers a darker fantasy guided by the magic of theater and, more specifically, by William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Directed by Tom Gustafson and co-written by Gustafson and Cory James Krueckeberg, this bit of low-budget indie film enchantment (now at the Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley) takes its cue from Max Reinhardt’s lush 1935 movie (and earlier stage production) of Midsummer and its ultra-romantic take on the world of lovers in the forest and the faeries that guide them.
The movie also seems inspired, in part, by Dead Poet’s Society, which includes a tormented, sensitive protagonist at its center who plays Puck in the all-boy academy’s production of Midsummer, but he commits suicide.
In Gustafson and Krueckeberg’s version, the protagonist is out gay student Timothy (Tanner Cohen), who is regularly roughed up by his rugby-playing compatriots. An English teacher/drama director (Wendy Robie), forces all the senior boys into her production of Midsummer, and Timothy lands the role of Puck because he can actually sing.
Invested in the role of the merry sprite, Timothy somehow borrows one of the play’s magic spells – the one that makes you fall in love with the next person you see – and begins turning his small town into the same-sex capitol of the world.
The farcical aspects of the plot never get too far out of hand, thanks primarily to the score (original music by Jessica Fogle and Tim Sandusky, lyrics by Krueckeberg and Shakespeare), which is beautiful and eerie and anything but farcical. (Soundtrack is available from PS Classics and on iTunes.)
More Dead Poets vibe comes from Zelda Williams, Robin’s daughter, who plays one of Timothy’s best friends. She sings the brightest song in the score, a sort of light-rock re-telling of the Pyramus and Thisbe story from Midsummer.
I could have used more music and some bigger musical numbers. Cohen has a gorgeous voice, and it’s a shame we don’t get to hear it more.
But it’s hard to complain when there’s so much that’s wonderful in this movie. How can you resist a movie where townsfolk are practically waving pitchforks and torches to get the school NOT to produce a Shakespeare play?
If only theater in the real world could inspire such vehement response.
Here’s the trailer for Were the World Mine:
Here’s an interview with director Gustafson and stars Cohen and Nathaniel David Becker: