Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hamlet 2

If you liked Waiting For Guffman, and you loathe movies like Dead Poet's Society and Mr. Holland's Opus, you'll love Hamlet 2. Standout performances by Steve Koogan as Dana Marschz, the lead character, Catherine Keener as his depressed wife, Amy Poehler as an ACLU lawyer, Elizabeth Shue (as herself), and unknown Shea Pope as the 9th grade theater critic, Noah Sapperstein. He almost steals the show. He had me at Roland Barthes.

It's a story about a crazy-assed, somewhat moronic, but ultimately sympathetic high school drama teacher who stages adapted versions of movies like Erin Brockovich instead of the usual high school fare (West Side Story, Death of a Salesman). Sapperstein, the critic, who pans all of his productions tells him that he should try writing original stuff. It tells you a lot about the movie and the writing and the characters that the protagonist turns to a Freshman dramaturge for advice--and then follows it. In any case Marschz knows he has to do something big to save the deapartment which is being cut due to budget cuts.

To save the department Marschz decides to write and produce a sequel to Hamlet. You may remember that at the end of Hamlet almost everyone is dead. "I have a device to fix that," he tells his wife. "What? A time machine?" she asks. "Yes." And someone named Jesus shows up in the sequel too, inexplicably, but probably just as an excuse for the showcase number Rock Me, Sexy Jesus.

Hamlet 2 is graced by balls-out performances. Most notable is Coogan's anti-hero, the caftan wearing, totally clumsy and admittedly untalented Marschz. But there's als0 the drama geeks Rand, a delightful closet case and Epiphany, a goody two shoes with a dark side.

In a way this movie is solidly in the "lets put on a show" genre, or the genre of British and American formulaic comedies, or inspirational dramas, that show the underdog rising predictably to great glory (Billy Elliott, Kinky Boots, Seabiscuit, Rocky, The Great Debaters, Calendar Girls, The Full Monty, Strictly Ballroom, etc.). Nine times out of ten, I hate this shit, because I like to be surprised

And surprised I was.Here's what got me. The show within the show--I'm not giving anything away by saying that it's a smash. I expected that, but I didn't expect to be moved. I think it was the Tucson Gay Men's Choir singing "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." Magic. What is better in life than completely unexpected tears?

No comments: