Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hamlet 2, or Why I Hate Inspirational Movies, but Love Their Parodies

I just finished watching a DVD of "Hamlet 2' a movie a missed in theaters, partly because I didn't have the time and money, and partly because the reviews were lukewarm, at best.

OK, it's not really true that I hate inspirational teacher movies. "Dead Poet's Society" was pretty good, "Renaissance Man" had some redeemable features, and I'm sure I'd enjoy "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" if I ever saw it. But as the genre gets older, with every "Mr. Holland's Opus" and "Dangerous Minds" it gets more and more stale.

Even the mainstream entertainment establishment has recognized this, however, in this post-modern new millennium, and it has pretty much become a given that any new entry into a genre has to be a parody. But mainstream being what it is, it seems that its the independent features that do it best.

Thus, "Hamlet 2," a story of a hopelessly mediocre but very hard-working actor who finds himself teaching drama in a high school in Tuscon Arizona, saddled with a class full of "Latinos," and facing the elimination of the drama program. He is inspired to create a brand new show to inspire the class and save toe program, and in the end he does. Along the way he loses his wife, meets Elizabeth Shue, and creates a First-Amendment furor.

In several ways, this was a positive, uplifting spin on "Waiting for Guffman." Whereas in that film, the show created by the fish-out-of-water writer/director/actor that inspires a community is "nice," but not great, and each person involved goes on to a sadly mediocre life, "Hamlet 2" gives us an exciting, outrageous play-within-a-movie with Hamlet, "Sexy Jesus," time travel, and a song about face rape.

But both movies are played for comedy, and many a true word has been said in jest. While a serious drama about an inspiring teacher or regional theater might suffer it the audience cannot buy the drama or the writing or a performance or casting (Michelle Pfeiffer as a former marine?), comedy gives one a chance to go over-the-top, look at the absurdity of real life, and allows the audience to accept what in a drama might be considered a shallower character.

Yet, "Guffman" was a downer. I saw it for the first time while in the middle of a theater tour (the Infamous Biggs-Rosati Trois Mousketaires tour) and it really cut close to home. It showed the sad side of those of us who feel a need to prance on a stage for audience approval, and are so willing to do wit, we will do it anywhere, for anyone.

"Hamlet 2" is an uplifting comedy. It really made me feel like creating a piece of entertainment was something that I wanted to do, that it could unite a group of people and give them something to live for, that it could help people see things they had not thought of, and could transcend cultural differences.

Currently my movie project is in a very delicate and exciting stage. The project has a lot of potential, and is finding a lot of resources, but if I don't focus and work hard for the next three weeks, it will all fall apart. Seeing this movie inspired me. When the "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" number came up, not only did the '50's rock & roll number give me the chills such music always does, it also got me all misty-eyed because I saw the cast coming together and their dreams and ambitions coming true in one great moment of unified cause.

And inspirational movies, being such a done genre,that they are hard to take seriously anymore, by simply admitting that it's been done before and going for the comedy inherent in such a done genre, disarms the critical senses, and allows the audience (well, me specifically) to buy into their reality and accept the movie for what it is, and the emotions of the characters as real.

So my new list of the top two inspirational movies includes: "Role Models" and "Hamlet 2"