Thursday, July 29, 2010

Underrated Movie #88: Hamlet 2

Our Shakespeare mini-unit concludes!
Title: Hamlet 2
Year: 2008
Director: Andrew Fleming
Writers: Fleming and Pam Brady
Stars: Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Amy Poehler, Elisabeth Shue, Melanie Diaz, Phoebe Strole

The Story: A deranged public school theater director decides to save the drama program by writing and staging “Hamlet 2”, a highly-personal musical saga involving Jesus, time travel and daddy issues.

How it Came to be Underrated: This got good reviews and a big sale at Sundance, which predictably caused a backlash when it got its wide release several months later. This time, the critics trashed it for no good reason. That’s a shame, because it’s wild, smart and hilarious.

Why It’s Great:

  1. It’s hard to make a good comedy about bad art without being overly-snotty towards your characters. You’re laughing at them for doing the same thing you’re attempting. But this movie succeeds by respecting his process, as terrible as it is. His saving grace is that he listens to every criticism and begs his critics for help.
  2. Coogan ultimately discovers that creating crappy art is still a valuable process because it works a lot of your own crap out of your system. This leads to some tricky areas for comedy, like a song about molestation. There’s been a lot of “anything goes” comedies recently about uncomfortable subjects, but I rarely find them funny. Coogan makes it work by allowing his character to feel sympathetic pain beneath the surface of his outrageous behavior.
  3. The critics who turned on this movie preferred a different take on the same topic: Synecdoche, NY, which was also about a delusional theater impresario in the sticks, (Catherine Keener plays the exact same part in both movies!) but I thought this one rang truer, even though it was much zanier. It’s definitely funnier-- I don’t usually laugh out loud while re-watching comedies for this blog, but I kept chortling uncontrollably while I was re-watching this.
  4. The movie also works as a wicked parody of “inspirational teacher” movies, which are usually based on a fundamental contempt for minority students and the public school system. This movie acknowledges that the kids and the schools are in trouble, sure, but saviors riding in on white stallions tend to be part of the problem, not the solution. This time the students are allowed to save the teacher.
  5. I haven’t even gotten into how hilarious Elizabeth Shue and Amy Poehler are in the movie. I can’t even do justice to it. Watch the movie.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Fleming has made a series of excellent indie comedies without ever getting much recognition. Threesome was a bluntly honest look at love in college, and Dick was a surreal satire about Nixon’s dogwalkers.

How Available Is It?: It’s on DVD with a chatty commentary by Fleming and Brady and sing-a-long versions of the deliriously funny songs.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Haunted Hamlet!

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