Were The World Mine

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Venue: Outfest (SPEAK Productions).

Talk about risk-taking. “Were the World Mine,” the movie that won the top jury prize at this year's Outfest, is a musical reworking of Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” with a gay Puck spreading mischief throughout his small town. Anyone could be forgiven for approaching the film with trepidation, but director Tom Gustafson meets the project's many challenges with aplomb. While the movie has been a huge hit at gay film festivals, it also won the audience award at the non-gay Florida Film Festival this spring, suggesting that it has crossover appeal.

Timothy (talented newcomer Tanner Cohen) is the gay outsider at his high school, constantly being harassed by the jocks in gym class. When the savvy drama teacher (Wendy Robie) insists that all the students participate in a production of “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” Timothy has a chance to turn the tables on his tormentors. Taking a cue from the play, Timothy sprinkles a love potion on the eyelids of his fellow students as well as several of the town's homophobes, and soon all of them are besotted with members of their own sex. The course of true love never did run smooth, but this rendition gives a whole new meaning to that Shakespearean maxim.

The first half of the movie is too languidly paced, though even here, Gustafson includes a few musical fantasy sequences to prepare us for the outlandish shenanigans to come. Once the rehearsals get under way and the potion works its magic, the film comes alive. The musical numbers are inventively choreographed and energetically performed, utilizing Shakespeare's own language for most of the lyrics.

Cohen has a thrilling singing voice, so it isn't hard to believe that he would captivate the school's star rugby player, the handsome Nathaniel David Becker. And Cohen, like Shakespeare's puckish sprite, explodes all stereotypes, managing to be at once masculine and fey. Robie brings the right note of sardonic humor to her witchlike role. Zelda Williams (Robin's daughter) adds considerable spunk as Timothy's best friend. Christian Stolte makes a perfect Shakespearean fool as the macho coach turned into a lovesick ass.

The lush cinematography belies the modest budget. Lots of movies take no chances and still manage to fail. This picture dares to summon the spirit of the Bard as well as the ghost of Arthur Freed and succeeds as a rousing, warm-hearted spectacle.

Cast: Tanner Cohen, Wendy Robie, Judy McLane, Zelda Williams, Jill Larson, Ricky Goldman, Nathaniel David Becker, Christian Stolte, David Darlow. Director: Tom Gustafson. Screenwriters: Cory James Krueckeberg, Tom Gustafson. Producers: Tom Gustafson, Cory James Krueckeberg, Peter Sterling. Director of photography: Kira Kelly. Production designer: Cory James Krueckeberg. Music: Jessica Fogle, Tim Sandusky. Costume designer: Elizabeth Powell Wislar. Editor: Jennifer Lilly. Choreographer: Todd Underwood. Sales agent: New American Vision.
No MPAA rating, 96 minutes.

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