“Were the World Mine,” opening today at the Ritz Theaters, is a musical fantasy about Timothy (Tanner Cohen), a gay teen, performing in his all-male school’s production of Shakespeare’s “A MidSummer Night’s Dream. ” But while this low-budget film was obviously made with plenty of heart, it lacks feeling.
Director Tom Gustafson directs with a heavy hand, and “Were the World Mine” is choreographed with a clubfoot. The film’s musical sequences have little magic, which does not bode well for a story where a “magic love juice” is a key ingredient. While many of the film’s characters are put under a spell, “Were the World Mine” is, sadly, hardly spellbinding.
Timothy is out at school and teased by the other boys. Uncoordinated at sports, he is encouraged to “awaken and empower what’s within” by drama teacher Ms. Tebbit (Wendy Robie). She speaks to her students using pretentious phrases like “Scribe away your thoughts.” Viewers who buy into the fantasy and respond to her quaint manner may enjoy this film, but for all others, it will be nails on a blackboard.
When Timothy auditions for the required senior play, his insecurity — which is unconvincing — belies his aptitude and, of course, Ms. Tibbet gives him the plum role of Puck in the Shakespeare play. So Timothy is a fairy playing a faerie — as “Were the World Mine” underscores at every possible opportunity. Subtle this film ain’t.
Timothy’s preparation for his role eventually prompts him to channel Puck and make a flower that spews a love potion. His magic stamen shoots its juice — recall, the film is unsubtle — and the recipient falls in love with the first person he or she sees. When he tries this on his friends and schoolmates, they all turn gay. Side effects include speaking in iambic pentameter.
Of course, to combat all of the homophobia, Timothy uses his potion to punish the boys who tease him, and he squirts his coach, who thinks having his boys play female roles will demoralize them. He also gets Jonathon (Nathaniel David Becker), a hunk he is crushed on, to fall in love with him. Yet as much as the film asks its characters to “walk a mile in a gay man’s shoes,” the situations never seem to equal what Timothy experiences in his life. All the same-sex loving has the townspeople in a tizzy, and the subsequent lessons of tolerance seem to be only a byproduct of strange goings-on and misunderstandings.
Significantly, the romance that blossoms between Timothy and Jonathon never feels authentic. Sure, Timothy lies lovingly and gazes longingly into his shirtless lover’s eyes. But there is hardly an ounce of passion that passes between the teens. Although Jonathon gives Timothy a friendly slap on his ass when Timothy makes a basket in gym class, there is very little bonding between these guys that suggests much of a friendship, much less a relationship.
Such underdeveloped plotting makes it hard to care about the film’s characters or their situations. But what is really infuriating about “Were the World Mine” is an ugly subplot involving Donna (Judy McLane), Timothy’s mother, who is trying to raise her son on her own. In several scenes, Donna exhibits contempt for her son because he is gay. (If this was the case, why didn’t he go live with his father?)
At one moment in the film, Donna not only asks her son “Why are you gay?” but also bemoans having to “deal with it” every day. As if viewers need proof of her hardship, Donna loses a sale to a customer when she mentions that her son is queer. To use a Shakespeare reference, mom is a shrew that needs to be tamed. But the fact that the story has Donna’s homophobic boss falling in love with her via the potion hardly seems to be the most suitable method to change her mind. In fact, it makes Donna less accepting of all the same-sex activity.
“Were the World Mine” often tries to overcompensate for its one-dimensional characters’ weaknesses by transforming them into their opposites. But such just desserts are unsatisfying. Seeing the unenlightened coach publicly kissing the school’s headmaster while under the potion’s spell hardly makes him sympathetic, or forgivable. He looks like an idiot. And given his poor use of the English language exhibited in the film, this is already a foregone conclusion.
There is also very little joy in the film’s unimaginative musical numbers. Cohen may have nice singing voice, but the film’s performance scenes do his talents a disservice. Viewers might do well to close their eyes and listen rather than watch the lame dance sequence, which involves athletes prancing around like ballerinas with rugby balls. Amusing it is not.
The film’s music consists of power-ballad-type numbers rather than catchy songs that provide depth to the characters’ lives. In fact, one song, a rock-and-roll number that is part of the Shakespeare production, does more to advance the play’s plot than the film’s.
“Were the World Mine” is simply an ambitious film that falls flat. Were it not so.