Title: Were the World Mine
Director: Tom Gustafson
Writers: Tom Gustafson and Cory James Krueckeberg
Genre: YA Romantic Musical
Rating: NR (though easily could be PG-13)
Length: 96 minutes
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: Despite its flaws, I love, love, love this movie.
If you had a love-potion, who would you make fall madly in love with you? Timothy, prone to escaping his dismal high school reality through dazzling musical daydreams, gets to answer that question in a very real way. After his eccentric teacher casts him as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he stumbles upon a recipe hidden within the script to create the play’s magical, purple love-pansy. Armed with the pansy, Timothy’s fading spirit soars as he puckishly imposes a new reality by turning much of his narrow-minded town gay, beginning with the rugby-jock of his dreams. Ensnaring family, friends and enemies in this heart-wrenching chaos, Timothy forces them to walk a mile in his musical shoes. The course of true love never did run smooth, but by the end of this moving musical comedy of errors based on director Tom Gustafson’s prolific award-winning short film, Fairies, the bumpy ride comes to a heartfelt conclusion.
Were the World Mine is the independently-produced, multiple award-winning, audience-loved, glitter-filled, feature-length musical version of Tom Gustafson’s 2003 short, Fairies. Shot on a small budget over 24 days with a cast and crew for whom many this was their first feature film, it (very) loosely parallels Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream — the queer version, if there was one — while the play itself is produced within as part of the plot.
I have recently taken to scouring the Netflix instant-watch films in the Gay/Lesbian genre and had gone through several dozen that, outside of maybe two that I can think of, were okay at best. How disappointing. When I came upon WTWM, I wasn’t expecting much. Boy, was I in for a surprise! Though not without flaws, it has quickly become one of my favorite films. I’ve watched it probably twenty times in the week since I discovered it. I walk around singing the infectious songs which I simply can’t get out of my head. I dance in my chair as I watch it. I dream about it. If I still had my girly parts and he swung my way, I’d want to have Tanner Cohen’s children. I have pimped it out to everyone who will listen. I bought the DVD and the soundtrack. I sat down and read AMSND to remind myself of the play and to catch the words that are sprinkled liberally throughout the dialog and make up most of the songs. How could I have missed this when it debuted in San Francisco in the fall of 2008? Update: Hell, how could I have missed it when it debuted in Berkeley just before that???
Timothy, an out senior at an all-boys private high school, is teased and tormented on a daily basis by his homophobic classmates and even some staff while secretly enamored with super jock Jonathon. Using fantasy and daydreams as an escape, he imagines a world very different than his own reality. Reluctantly auditioning for and cast as Puck in the senior class production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Timothy finds a hidden recipe for the love potion within the dialog of the play. Mixing a batch and distributing it via a purple pansy (how appropriate!), he proceeds to systematically turn many of his peers and much of the small-minded townsfolk gay — starting with his unrequited crush — in the hopes that they will see life though his eyes. The resulting chaos has both good and bad effects, and once free will has been returned, some surprising lasting changes are in store.
I think I’ll start with my problems with the film:
First, I wanted…more. More music and at least one longer number. More of the play itself, both in rehearsal and the final production. More interaction between Timothy and Jonathon. Though the sweet romance between these two is there, much of it is during the 24 hours or so the spell is in effect, and I would have loved for Jonathon’s last sentence(s) in the story — after order had been restored — to have been completed instead of Ms. Tebbit cutting in. I was like, “Oh, wait you daft bat! He was gonna say something!” I wanted him to explain himself. It would have gone a long way to eliminate this particular criticism.
I felt there were some awkward and weak acting moments, including most of the kissing scenes between the boys (an unfortunate common occurrence in gay cinema).
Though I didn’t feel this way — it is a fantasy film after all, which I recognize — there have been and will be people who will be critical of and perhaps offended by the fact that after the turn, the boys begin acting like, well, fairies. At times, the rugby players break out as stereotypical and clichéd ballerinas in their uniforms, and the tough, homophobic rugby coach chases after and professes his love for the principal. Unrealistic, but remember this is fantasy.
Now, what I loved (and what ultimately allows me to absolutely forgive the above):
There is a sweetness and innocence about this film that left me on a high note after watching it. Who wouldn’t want to have a way to have others walk in your shoes for even a little bit with at times comedic effect and marvelous music while having the object of your desire want you as well? It’s a must-watch for anyone who was/is a teenage outcast or considered different, regardless of their “problem” — too fat, too skinny, too short, too tall, gay, nerd, glasses-wearing, disabled, disfigured — it doesn’t matter.
It’s hard not to fall in love with this cast. Tanner Cohen is a genius choice for lead Timothy, and as Nate Becker’s Jonathon says “nice pipes.” Tall, dark and handsome, and boy, can he sing! What a beautiful tenor he is (with surprising falsetto clarity), and according to a short interview vid (here), he claims to have only had a year of voice lessons. Bold, sincere and confident, he is outstanding in the role, and he charmed me and won my heart. His Timothy is vulnerable, yet strong, and as he belts out: “I will sing that they shall hear that I am not afraid!” I am eager to see if he will continue acting. (Note that he is the voice half of the two-person band, The Guts).
Star rugby player Jonathon is wonderfully played by the very easy-on-the-eyes Nathaniel David Becker, who has a great voice of his own. I love the little tells that Jonathon may not be as disinterested in Timothy as he likes people to believe, even before being anointed: the slap on the ass, the little looks and smiles, how he drags his teammates off Timothy during a scuffle, the compliment of Timothy’s audition for the play. And as I said above, I would love to hear what Jonathon was going to say before getting cut off at the end.
Wendy Robie (of Twin Peaks fame) is absolutely perfect as she reprises the role Ms. Tebbit, the somewhat creepy and eccentric teacher/play sponsor and Timothy’s magical guide. Rounding out the cast is Judy McLane, who was great as Timothy’s trying-to-understand-and-make-ends-meet mother (though I admit that I thought too much of the film’s time was spent on her job sub-plot); Zelda Williams (daughter of Robin Williams) as Frankie, Timothy’s female best friend and part of the musical ensemble; Ricky Goldman as Timothy’s other best friend and love potion error; Christian Stolte as Coach Driskill; and David Darlow as Dr. Bellinger, the school principal.
The plot is fantasy and reality woven together via Shakespeare’s text and the musical numbers. Though the fantasy elements are shown mostly via Timothy’s eyes, I am convinced that the audition fantasy is Jonathon’s and where he begins to see Timothy in a different light. The title song fantasy sequence is just fabulous and All Things Shall Be Peace beautiful (and for a funny tale of the filming of this scene, read this article).
The lyrics for the majority of the songs are cleverly taken directly and adapted from AMSND — sometimes following in line, sometimes not — but somehow they make perfect sense in the context they’re used and expertly move the plot along. BTW, for those interested, there is a series of great videos on YouTube where the poster took the CD and a copy of AMSND and shows us exactly where the words are in the text (start here). Additionally, there are parts of the general dialog that are lines from AMSND, especially when the love juice is doing its magic.
Finally, great costumes, especially during the staged play itself, give the film a lot of character and color: silver lame shorts, wings and wigs of varying colors, lots of glittery makeup.
Regardless of the niggles I had, this is a great film that I highly recommend, one that has stayed with me and draws me back time and again.
Note: WTWM is also currently available on Logo television channel.