Revisited: Hamlet 2

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Dana Marschz is a recovering alcoholic and failed actor who has become a high school drama teacher in Tucson, Arizona, “where dreams go to die”. Despite considering himself an inspirational figure, he only has two enthusiastic students, Rand Posin and Epiphany Sellars, and a history of producing poorly received school plays that are essentially stage adaptations of popular Hollywood films (his latest being Erin Brockovich). When the new term begins, a new intake of students are forced to transfer into his class as it is the only remaining arts elective available due to budget cutbacks; they are generally unenthusiastic and unconvinced by Dana’s pretensions, and Dana comes into conflict with Octavio, one of the new students.

Dana is floored when Principal Rocker notifies him that the drama program is to be shut down at the end of the term. Seeking to inspire his students, Dana undertakes to write and produce an original play: a sequel to Hamlet featuring time travel to avoid the deaths of the characters, and new, more controversial content, including the introduction of Jesus Christ as one of the characters, complete with a song-and-dance number titled “Rock Me Sexy Jesus”. The kids gradually warm to the project, but Rand – cast as a bi-curious Laertes and overshadowed by Octavio as Hamlet – storms out of the drama group and provides a copy of the play’s script to Principal Rocker, who orders Dana to stop the controversial production.

Dana is further traumatized when his wife Brie leaves him for the uninteresting, but fertile, boarder Gary they had taken into their home to supplement their modest income, and reveals that he himself is infertile. Despondent, Dana falls off the wagon and tries to abandon the project, but his students encourage him to continue, arranging an abandoned warehouse and rave spot, technical assistance, and security being provided by the high school’s football and wrestling teams. Dana also learns that the cancellation of the play has become a civil liberties issue encouraged by fanatical ACLU activist Cricket Feldstein. As a result, the play opens to a sold-out house, including a critic from The New York Times. Rand returns to the group, apologizing for his desertion; Dana allows him to return to the role of Laertes.

The play itself initially meets with a mixed reception, due to its controversial content and mangling of the original play; in keeping with a running joke throughout the movie, much of the content revolves around the characters using time travel to mend their troubled relationships with their fathers; it ends with both Hamlet and Jesus forgiving their fathers for the wrongs done to them. Although initially reluctant to engage with the play, with several protesters infiltrating the audience to stage a direct protest, the play gradually wins the audience over. The film ends with Dana and his favorite actress, Elisabeth Shue – whom he is now dating – meeting Dana’s students to prepare for the show’s Broadway opening, complete with original cast.

REVIEW:

I’m pretty sure when William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, he did not have any notion that there would ever be a “sequel” to it. Well folks, here have Hamlet 2, but fret not, the film is not a sequel to Shakespeare’s play. The title comes from a play that is performed during the film. Confused yet?

What is this about?

With his department in danger of being cut, high school drama teacher Dana Marschz pens a heretical sequel to William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and exhorts his students to stage it in this sardonic comedy that riffs on the “inspirational teacher” genre.

What did I like?

Support the arts. There is a real problem in this country, and it involves the eradication of arts programs in schools, while sports and other activities go untouched. Without going into “preachy” territory, this film touches on how this very subject, when it is said that the theater department will be cut at the end of term. Also, Steve Coogan’s character apparently doesn’t get paid for teaching. How that happened, I don’t quite know. It is nice to see a film bring about awareness to the general public, though.

Push the boundaries. Remember the days when people weren’t walking on eggshells? A time when we weren’t afraid of offending anyone and if we did, so what? When did we get so soft and easily offended, I wonder? At any rate, this titular play is a mess, I won’t dispute that, but the hodge-podge of characters, including a modern take on Jesus is what we need today. Something that will remind everyone that it is ok to laugh and not be offended, as long as the comedy isn’t malicious. This makes me glad that this film was very limited in its release because, much in the same way the school cracked down on the play, I can imagine studios would have had a cow about the subject matter and demanded it be changed.

Babysitter. Remember Elisabeth Shue? Well, she may best be known as the babysitter in Adventures in Babysitting. She did a few films after that, but for the most part she disappeared from the business, only to resurface in this playing herself. While she hasn’t become a huge star since, her career has benefitted, as she has had a couple of lead roles, most notable in Piranha 3D. Say what you will about this flick, and celebrities making comebacks in small independent films playing themselves (remember Neil Patrick Harris in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle), it seems to work.

What didn’t I like?

Home life. In school, did you ever think about what kind of home life your teachers had? I know I didn’t, with the exception of pregnancies, divorces, etc. Life changing events like that, you can’t help but wonder. I’m sure these students are no different, especially the ones that were just shoved into that class because they couldn’t put them anywhere else. So, if the kids don’t care, why should we? Someone didn’t get this memo, because anytime they could slip in Coogan’s wife, their roommate, and various other personal problems, they did. Was this meant to develop his character? Perhaps, but I’m not sure that is succeeded.

Acting…or overacting. Playing a theater teacher can’t exactly have been easy. I say this because on top of conventional acting, one has to overact. With this character Coogan is playing, he really has to overdo it, but I wonder if it was too much. The eccentricities of this character are well-known before we’re even half-way through the picture. Does Coogan need to go as overboard as he does? That really is up to the individual to judge, but I wasn’t a fan.

Class. This is what appears to be a fairly large high school. How is it that only 2 kids sign up for drama each year? I can understand the shoving of the other kids into that class. That kind of thing happens at all schools. What doesn’t happen, though, is the complete lack of students. If this kind of thing went on in any other place, the drama teacher would have been fired, or the program cut due to lack of interest.

Hamlet 2, the independent comedy that had all the promise in the world, but fell flat on its face. Still, it has developed a bit of a cult following. People, such as myself, will watch, no matter what. Do I recommend this? Yes, it is the kind of film that will start plenty of discussion around the water cooler.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

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