The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Hamlet II

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Jacqueline Monahan

Hamlet II

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The title itself should alert you to the wildly implausible premise. How you approach it will influence your enjoyment of this Sundance hit which is really more hit and miss, but refreshingly illogical, rebellious, and a politically incorrect middle finger to the middle class and its pretensions.

Eccentric West Mesa High School drama teacher Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) finds out his department will cease to exist after the current semester, due to budget cuts and his propensity for helming the questionable stage projects he chooses to showcase. (Erin Brockovich, for one). Short on talent, long on inspiration and clueless optimism, Marschz, (make sure to pronounce the “Z” at the end) accompanied by his two top students and devotees, Rand Posin and Epiphany Sellars (Skylar Astin and Phoebe Strole), sails into what could be his last semester as drama teacher.

New enrollees include a tough crop of Hispanic students who need nothing more than an elective and to whom drama occurs on a regular, very real basis. Gender and culture clash at first, with the oblivious Marschz garnering the most abuse, especially from apparent ringleader Octavio ((Joseph Julian Soria).

Advised by the resident 9th grade drama critic to take up the good bard’s work for a change instead of his usual movie rehash, Marschz sets about creating a Shakespearean sequel to Hamlet in which all of the tragedy is reversed, and gust stars can include the likes of Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Son of God. This is musical theater after all. Derision and verbal abuse rain down on Marschz daily from his contemptuous classroom, housed disrespectfully in the school’s cafeteria.

Marschz’ home life is hardly a refuge from turmoil. Bitterly sarcastic wife Brie (Catherine Keener) contrasts her husband’s quixotic attitude with a dark and sardonic wittiness that exposes a deeply dissatisfied woman, trying to get pregnant and just now realizing who she’s made her life partner. The couple shares their home with a boarder, Gary, (David Arquette) who seems more like an appendage than a person. Brie speaks to her husband as if he’s the punch line to a cruel joke. He’s usually oblivious to the barbs, disconnected from his personal life and deep into his delusional creation, actually wearing a tragedy mask while composing it.

An unexpected ray of line shines upon Marschz’s life when he meets Elisabeth Shue at Prickly Pear fertility clinic. She’s his favorite actress, now a nurse, and he promptly invites her to speak to his class. Drama class has been kicked out of the cafeteria and must now share the gym with an active volleyball game. With Marschz in charge, this does not seem as absurd as it actually is.

Word of the new production leaks out and administrators grumble and harass Marschz, threatening shutdown. ACLU lawyer Cricket Feldstein (Amy Poehler) whirls into town with just the right threats, legal jargon and 5th Amendment force to persuade the administration to go on with the show.

Along the way, Marschz’s mercilessly hip and streetwise crop of drama thugs suddenly embrace the idea of the unorthodox sequel, adding suggestions along the way. The result is a wildly disparate production that’s at times touching, at times offensive and consistently ridiculous, but able to win converts among the skeptical audience. The Tucson Gay Men's Chorus sings Elton John's "Someone Saved my Life Tonight" ; Marschz and his students perform a Grease-like ensemble piece entitled "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus" Even the ultra devout prayer club joins the fervor.

Writer/Director Andrew Fleming (Dick) co-wrote the screenplay with Pam Brady (South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut). Vulgarity and comedic timing mingle within a context of personal failure and absurd, pie-in-the-sky grandiosity. Not everything works, but enough resonates to have the viewer cheering on Marschz, as he rides his ludicrous concept like a surfboard through the desert.

British actor Steve Coogan is a master of physical comedy, roller-skating through Tucson (though actually shot in Albuquerque) because he can’t afford a car. His resemblance to Monty Python’s Eric Idle gives him a comedic edge, even when he’s at his most pathetic. Phoebe Strole is the quintessential drama hopeful, more Oklahoma! than O, Calcutta! Catherine Keener is as relentlessly acerbic as Elisabeth Shue is serene. Joseph Julian Soria, the stereotype-busting Latino tough, injects a much-needed street presence in contrast to Marschz’s delirious thespian. Amy Poehler will have you looking up her number the next time you need someone on your side for an unpopular cause.

Hamlet 2 is a production as improbable as its title; yet something gels in the mix that makes this celebration of failure taste more delectable than it should. Maybe it was all those classes spent emoting in the school cafeteria.