This post may contain spoilers. Read at your own discretion.
Before watching “Were the World Mine”, I couldn’t appreciate William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I studied a handful of works from the English playwright in high school, spending blocks of time discussing play after play in English class, and I remember connecting the least to this one. Tom Gustafson’s and Cory James Kreuckeberg’s re-interpretation of a A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an effort to highlight a historically correct aspect of theatre as well as shatter stereotypes. By making it major element in a gay musical film, “Were the World Mine” offers the viewer an opportunity to gain a renewed understanding of the play.
Taking place in the small town of Kingston, the film opens during a session of Dodgeball in gym class at the Morgan Hill Academy. The class consists of all male students, implying the school is exclusive. Between games, one of the students, Cooper (played by Parker Croft), throws a denigrating comment towards his fellow classmate, an openly gay student named Timothy (played by the gorgeous Tanner Cohen). But the latter quickly retorts, triggering laughter from the class. The game begins again, the shuffling of feet and exercising of reflexes on complete display for their teacher, Coach Driskill (played by Christian Stolte). As if to demonstrate his final say, the Cooper throws his ball at Timothy, but the ball stops mid-air and the scene brightens to provide time for a musical number before hitting him square in the face. Coach Driskill dismisses the boys to the showers, but not before smirking disdainfully at Timothy, who is still reeling from the assault.
In the changing room, there is an exchange about their upcoming Shakespeare class and sports. When Timothy walks in, save for one seemingly encouraging remark, the hurtful comments resume, establishing that homophobia is rampant in the culture of this private all-boys school. However, the school jock, Jonathon Cordon (played by the equally gorgeous Nathaniel David Becker), without malicious pre-lude to his offer, asks him if he wants some ice for his black eye. Timothy declines.
Timothy is the last to reach his next class. Upon his entrance, a negative comment is thrown once again, but the teacher, Miss Tebbit (played by Wendy Robie), reminds them that no soul is to be disrespected in the confines of her classroom. She tells the students to write their innermost feelings in a manner inspired by Shakespeare, while making the class recite some lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the middle of the exercise, the scene brightens again, playing another musical number. The musical interludes are in fact manifestations of Timothy’s fantasies, and the second reveals Timothy’s crush on Jonathon. The number finishes when Miss Tebbit offers Timothy a flyer, asking him to audition for the school’s theatre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Timothy has doubts, but she doesn’t take “No.” for an answer.
After school, Timothy meets up with his friends, the emancipated and musically talented Frankie (played by Zelda Williams) plus the wild-haired Max (played by Ricky Goldman), who attend another school. The trio share a very close bond, being able to share the most intimate and mundane details of themselves to each other. Frankie and Max even come to Timothy’s defence when his exhausted single mother, Donna (played by the beautiful Judy McLane) throws a tantrum in the kitchen of their home. Her tantrum causes Timothy to walk out of the kitchen, followed by Frankie and Max. Donna is not able to tell Timothy about her new job as a door-to-door saleslady for the business of Nora Bellinger (played by Jill Larson). Aside from working hard to keep Timothy in an expensive private school, Donna’s inability to accept Timothy’s homosexuality and the loneliness she feels from the absence of Timothy’s father plagues the mother-and-son familial structure.
Donna begins her new job the next day. Timothy is also scheduled for his audition for the play. The auditions are back-to-back with the school’s rugby practise, causing Coach Driskill to complain. On the stage that permanently occupies a section of the gymnasium, several boys exhibit unenthusiastic attitudes and sub-par performances. Then, Timothy reluctantly steps up. During his audition, he admits not understanding the words he is reading, but exhibits the potential of his voice upon Miss Tebbit’s request. The rugby team sit outside the gymnasium, bored in waiting. But as Timothy’s voice resonates past the perimetres of the audition, Jonathan peers through the cracks to search for the source behind the sound. The following musical number implies there is more potential to be more than just acquaintances.
When the complete cast list is displayed on the door of the gym-slash-theatre, and Timothy learns he has earned the role of Puck. Jonathan, who is to play Lysander, compliments Timothy on his voice. Unsurprisingly, Donna does not echo the same sentiment. However, due to the need to make the costumes themselves, Donna later shows support by fashioning Puck’s wings out of her old wedding dress.
The students try to maintain the balance between their academic and extra-curricular activities, rehearsing in class as well. Donna feels much doubt with her new job, as she feels that Nora is overshadowing her attempts to prove herself. Miss Tebbit is being placed in hot water by Coach Driskill and Dr. Lawrence Bellinger (played by David Darlow) for seemingly emasculating the students. However, Miss Tebbit calls their bluff, bringing up both an important fact about the history of theatre and the existence of their chauvinism. The room is effectively silenced by her remark.
Timothy confides in Frankie and Max about “Jock Boy” Jonathon. Both Frankie and Max agree that a relationship can happen between Timothy and Jonathan, but Timothy also acknowledges the apparent chemistry between Frankie and Max. Once more, it is an issue of who makes the first move, even though Frankie is convinced Max is gay. Still, individual struggles continue. During one of her attempts to recruit, Donna encounters a buyer who refuses to purchase from her after learning her son is gay. The buyer’s bigotry is a moment of realisation for Donna, and it kick-starts a unconditionally supporting attitude for her child, even at the scrutiny of the generally homophobic outlook of the townsfolk.
Timothy finds his school locker vandalised, and goes to confront the culprit on the rugby field. Jonathon tries to placate things, but it escalates into a fight. As a result, he refuses to come to Timothy’s defence. Back at home, Timothy literally creates the magic pansy per A Midsummer Night’s Dream, his despair giving him the sudden understanding of the play. The first sprinkle of the pansy misfires, but Timothy manages to win Jonathon’s affections. When Timothy sees the pansy as a way of making the town walk in his own shoes for a while, he makes them fall in love, one by one, with a member of the same sex. However, Timothy’s desire for empathy may do the town more damage than repair and bring A Midsummer Night’s Dream beyond the boundaries of the school stage.
Some online sources have described the film as the gay “Dead Poets Society”, or the gay “High School Musical”, or a mix of both. There is another comment online that compares the physical resemblance of Nathaniel David Becker and Tanner Cohen to the American Idol Season 8 winner and runner-up, respectively. To be honest, I can sort of see the validity in the latter. Becker bears a similar build and boyish face to Kris Allen, and Cohen sports height and beautiful eyes like Adam Lambert. With that, it would make “Were the World Mine” possibly the musical wet dream for those who so-called “ship” Allen and Lambert. You know who you are.
If you were looking for glamourous scene design and cinematography, drop that expectation right now. “Were the World Mine” puts emphasis on a strong script and stellar soundtrack that perhaps the seemingly lacklustre quality in the film’s set may as well have been deliberate. I had to watch the film twice to understand that.
The beginning of the film is slow, with the main and sub-plots mixed up. However, while most of the sub-plots remained weak throughout, coherency in the central story is restored as the film focuses on the school production. The fame of Sheakspeare’s words helped, perhaps. The quality of the acting and dialogue is generally good, sometimes funny, and occasionally cheesy, which is fine, given that it’s campy. The soundtrack, which is the heart and soul of the film, is great. While I didn’t dig “Pyramus and Thisby”, and I felt Judy McLane was not given enough solo time, the combination of Frankie’s humourous croons, as well as the music composed for the play, is catchy and fun.
The film offers a freeing perspective to sexuality while giving a crash course on the history of Elizabethan theatre. A person who can man up to wear a dress for kicks and giggles isn’t necessarily homosexual, nor is the sports buff necessarily heterosexual. The scene where Max wears a dress and women’s shoes for fun reinforces that point. The forces are all the more poignant in Timothy’s struggles, however. When the townsfolk are forced to walk in Timothy’s shoes, they become painfully aware of his heartbreaks. They all become Timothy in the sense that they experience deep, unrequited love. They also fall victim to the comments they have previously cast upon him. What they consider to be a town-wide epidemic, they find themselves more involved in the school play than they think. When Timothy faces the heartbreaking task to reverse what he has done, he is generously rewarded.
Yes, you read that right. God, I love happy endings!
“Were the World Mine” may centre around a gay character and his search for love and acceptance, but it contains a message that is relevant to all who have a soul. The human connection is necessary for survival. When one feels they’re forbidden to love in the way they know, what is a more sincere cry for help than that of empathy? But to artificially modify the natural course of love can only multiply instead of decimate hurts.