So my contribution to our run of movie reviews based on Shakespeare is this goofy take off of A Midsummer's Night Dream. How closely does it hew to the brilliant comedy? Not at all.
We have four leads in a love square, with kinda the same back and forth romantic vibes as Shakespeare's play. First is Berke/Lysander (Ben Foster) who loves Allison/Hermia (Melissa Sagemiller). Allison breaks up with Berke in the first couple minutes of the movie, which leads to the first clue that this is not going to be a normal teen romance by any stretch of the imagination.
As Berke is walking home with a box of belongings Allison unceremoniously shoves in his arms, a full musical number starts to unfold behind him to a cover of Captain and Tennille's 'Love Will Keep Us Together' by Vitamin C. Random pairs dance out from lawns and sidewalks, including a UPS delivery woman and a mailman, two garbage truck guys, and an entire marching band. All the while Berke is walking home devastated he is oblivious to what is happening behind him, but he does manage to pause on just the right musical cues. Suffice it to say, this is one of my favorite movie openings ever.
Berke then spends the rest of the movie trying to win back Allison from Bentley 'Striker' Scrumfeld/Demetrius (Shane West) who is a former boy band singer and all around asshole. Enter Kelly/Helena (Kirsten Dunst) who tries to help Berke get a part in the school musical in an effort to win back Allison. Unfortunately for her she is pinning for Berke, and is only helping so that he'll notice her. Confusing? Well yeah, but that's kind of the fun.
Most of the action takes place in the reality of high-school teenage romance tropes, and those are mostly well done. Especially since Ben Foster plays it straight and his dry reactions to the absurdity around him are a lot of fun. But a good chunk of the film is not based in any kind of normal. See, the production Berke and all the other leads end up in is a musical version of A Midsummer's Night Dream, and yes it is as bad as it sounds.
This abomination of a musical interpretation of Shakespeare's greatest comedy is directed by Dr. Desmond Forrest Oates (Martin Short), who constantly drops names, is totally obsessed with his own supposed genius, and has the musical skills of tone deaf five year old. We see the auditions where everyone has to sing and of course Berke is not the greatest singer so he improvises. But these auditions also introduce Kelly's big character arc, the fact that she's a songwriter.
All of this would be strange enough, but Berke is really going through the motions because of the break-up and constantly puts himself in awkward situations. Even worse he frequently daydreams about trying to win Allison back in sequences where he's dressed in full toga, in a magical forest, and speaking in really bad Shakespearian language. These delusions do include Oberon, Titania, and Puck... but they aren't really a part of the story except tangentially.
Eventually things do become more and more centered around the production of the musical as Berke and Kelly grow closer, while Berke single-mindedly pursues Allison. This all leads to the play itself, which is so much fun. We have some bad acting, the impossibly bad songs from Forrest Oates, and the resolution to the love square which I won't spoil here. The romantic side of this film is very sweet and genuine for the most part, and the ending had one of those 'awww' moments that spoke to the romantic in me.
The only real interference to Berke and his eventual romantic fate is from his best friends Felix (Colin Hanks) and Dennis (Sisqó), as they constantly push him in the wrong directions, and they also provide most of the comic relief in the 'real' world.
Striker's boy band is called the Swing Town Lads, there is even a music video shown for one of his song's called Luv S.C.U.D. and it is such an on the nose parody of those songs that it's almost funny.
Both Mila Kunis and Zoe Saldana have small supporting roles as the best friends to Kelly and Allison respectively.
Swoosie Kurtz and Ed Begley Jr. play Berke's parents, and they are uncomfortably funny as well as TV sex therapists.
Carmen Electra and Coolio both have cameos.
Both Berke and Striker sing Elvis Costello's 'Alison' to Allison. Berke is hilariously off key, while Striker's version is bad in its own way.
Sisqó and Vitamin C perform a cover of Earth, Wind and Fire's 'September' with the entire cast in a music video played over the credits.
Probably the most ridiculous character is a clutzy supermodel named Dora Lynn (Kylie Bax) who missed six years of school because of an accident that left her in a coma. That might not sound funny, but she is painfully oblivious and accident-prone.
Coach: "Nice trick there, Landers, catching the ball with your face. Next thing you know, you'll be shooting three-pointers with your ass."
Forrest Oates: "Bill Shakespeare was a wonderful poet. But Burt Bacharach he ain't."
Berke: "You're my parents, for God's sake, stop trusting me."
Del: (Super serious and intense) "Go bid the huntsmen, wake them with their horns."
Forrest Oates: "Hold it, yes um, um what can I... you'd tell me if you'd had a stroke."
This is not a great movie, I'm not even sure I would call it a good movie. But it makes me laugh, and I love the absurdity of it. The plot is a bit cliched, but the details are unique and all over the map. Pretty much every visual pun and site gag you can think of is thrown in for good measure. Most of them work, but a few are eye-rolling and groan worthy. Still, this is one I call a guilty pleasure and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
2 1/2 out of 4 Musical numbers
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.