This is a reprint; I first posted this review as part of “Fae Awareness Month” in 2011.
Tom Gustafson’s low-budget, independent, gay musical, Were the World Mine, arrived in 2008, swathed in lace and glitter and hot boy-on-boy action. Interspersed with the traditional Shakespearean scenes, acted out on a prep-school stage, are musically-enhanced fantasies that are some of the best moments of the film. Even when the film’s fairies aren’t in costume, the boys are still by turns argumentative, mischievous, aggressive, and tricky. Exactly as the Bard would have wanted them to be. How does the play – and more importantly, the mischievous fairies – fare as a small-town tale of homophobia and love?
A quick read of the play reveals that the film, though slightly out of order and with some actors playing characters who embody more than one of Shakespeare’s roles, the essence of Dream is presented in its entirety. The play has two main settings; the town, at the beginning and end, where the humans live in real life, is found in WTWM’s small town reality, where the film opens and to which it returns when it ends. Boys dressed as girls are a staple of traditional Elizabethan-style Shakespearian plays, and in this regard WTWM stays true, creating an all-boys school as the setting for it’s all-boy staging of the play within the film. The bulk of Dream is set in the “wood”, with various locales and “bowers”, and this can be seen in WTWM’s dream sequences, including actual woods.Just as Dream is presented as a mix of fairy magic, theater, and restless dreams, Were the World Mine is a musical, and so naturally features a few interludes of the sort where people start singing and dancing when this would otherwise seem insane. Luckily for us, Timothy doesn’t question these moments too strongly, and the lovely daydream sequences continue right up to the movie’s finale.
When Shakespeare’s play begins, the lovely Hermia is supposed to marry Demetrius, who she does not love, because tradition and her father demand it. The film begins with Jonathan, the star rugby player, dating a girl, fitting into his expected roles, and quietly eying the only gay boy in town. Instead of marrying Demetrius, Hermia runs off to the woods with Lysander, and if we can accept that Timothy is both Puck and in this moment Lysander too, then it makes sense when the smitten Jonathan runs off to the woods with Timothy to hide from an angry world. Demetrius follows, along with Helen who loves him. In one scene they are acted out by Jonathan’s girlfriend and her friend, who chase after the newly-coupled boys, and in another, Timothy’s friends Max and Frankie (a girl) fill their shoes. Puck is solely the purview of Timothy in the film, no matter how other roles may drift, for it is he who finds the love-flower spell, he who casts it, in his own sparkly closet “bower”, he who sprinkles the juice in future-lovers eyes, and he who begs forgiveness in the end. The Demetrius as Max parallel works again later with Frankie as Hermia in the scene where a potion-drenched Max has accidentally fallen in love with Timothy (here playing out Helen’s role) – Frankie accuses Timothy of stealing her love interest, when Timothy has no love for Max outside of friendship. Promising to correct his error, he leaves Max behind, but the play’s fight scene between Demetrius and Lysander appears, as Max battles Jonathan for the lover they both want – Timothy as Helen again, with both her suitors magically smitten.
If we accept that Gustafson seems to have simply switched the genders of all the major roles in the play, it is obvious that Oberon is personified by the enigmatic drama teacher, the only woman working at the school. It is she who gives Timothy the role as Puck, she who leads him to the potion, and she who has something to gain when Timothy’s spell enchants the locals. In the play Puck explains that Titania was doused as the acting troupe, “were met together to rehearse a play,” fitting because Timothy uses the potion while the students are rehearsing their version of Dream. When the homophobic rugby coach bursts in on the love-doused boys, he too is changed by Timothy’s potion. His eyes open upon who will be his love: the principle of the school. At that moment it becomes clear that the coach is Titania, and the principle is playing the part of the ass. Because of Titania’s infatuation with the woodland creature, she gives up her interest in the Indian Boy, whom Oberon desires. The drama teacher, too, desires something – the hearts and minds of the young male students – and in his lovelorn state, the coach, gives up his tight grip on them, even going so far as to support ballet movements in practice.
At the end of the film, just like at the end of the play, the dream ends with a happy audience released from its spell. The boys are allowed to perform their version of Dream, though we as viewers only see snippets, since we’ve already seen the play acted out as the movie up until that point. The one scene shown in its entirety is what the drama teacher calls, “an incredibly hip song,” a musical version of Dream’s own play within the play, Pyramus and Thisbe. Just as Hermia’s father is relieved to find the lover’s relationships satisfactorily sorted out, the schoolboy’s parents are relieved to find that, for the most part, they’ve gone back to being socially-acceptable heterosexuals. Lysander and Hermia are given permission to be together, just as Jonathan and Timothy find approval from their previously homophobic friends. Titania gives up her love for the ass, who’s allowed to return to his old life, just as the coach realizes he cannot chase the principle, who happily returns to the waiting arms of his wife.
The lyrics for most of the music were adapted from Shakespeare’s original text. Again, the powerful writing of the original play shines through its adaptation, even when WTWM is at its best. Jennifer Fogle crafted the numbers from her knowledge as arguably the most experienced member of the crew, since she’d produced, directed, and written musicals for the stage before working on the film. Interestingly enough, Fogle is the one person who shares space with Shakespeare in the credits. Her songs are not the only place that direct quotation appears; the title of the film, Were The World Mine, is taken from Helena’s conversation with Hermia in Act 1, Scene 1, wherein Helena says that if she had her way, Demetrius would love her instead. One of the most oft repeated lines in the film, “The course of true love never did run smooth,” also appears in the first scene of the play, yet neither language nor plot points from the play are apparently enough for Gustafson to credit Shakespeare with being anything more than an “inspiration.”
I enjoyed the movie, both for the very modern treatment of one of my favorite plays, and for the hot boys singing and dancing all over the screen. I mean, c’mon. Hot boys! Dancing! And there’s kissing! I like movies that are lighthearted and fun, even when the dialogue strays from time-tested poetry into campy retro attempts at courtship. (“I’m with the best fella in town”? Really?) The set design is gorgeous, while staying within the boundaries of what’s possible for a high school theater department. One of my favorite moments is when Timothy, adorned in silver face paint, serenades a sleeping Jonathan, bringing in the rugby team to do a ballet dance with pink balls and shiny boy shorts. Though Jonathan, upon waking, sings as well, his voice doesn’t have the strength of Timothy’s, but that works too, blending together to create the vocals the other fairies dance along with. And oh, the fairies dance! And rock! Another favorite scene comes at the end of the film, where we see the “Pyramus and Thisbe” play enacted as a hipster anthem. A rugby player, dressed as a fairy with bright orange dreadlocks, head-bangs pretty enthusiastically as Timothy’s friend Frankie sings the story.
In the end, all is put right again, and we’re left with a good two-hours worth of entertainment. I’d recommend this film to anyone who’s a fan of puckish sprites, Shakespeare, cute boys, or musicals.