Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hamlet 2: Grade A

Hamlet 2 (2008)
Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, David Arquette, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Poehler; Co-writer & Director Andrew Fleming.

An ex-actor of awful commercials (Coogan) is now a highly emotional high school drama coach on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with a class full of uninterested students, many Latino. He struggles to give them some appreciation of theater and also to please his fed-up wife (Keener, who always delivers). The teacher writes a bizarre play, a hodge-podge of ideas only vaguely related to Hamlet and not at all to Shakespeare. The kids contribute ideas to give it street cred but the school cuts the whole drama department. In the tradition of Stand And Deliver/Dead Poets Society, the students become inspired and the show must go on, in this case to draw the public’s attention to the school’s funding problem. The school tries to cancel the play claiming it is indecent and irreverent but the ACLU (Poehler) defends it. The last act presents the play, which is insanely over the top and very funny in multiple layers of parody and satire.

What makes this film good is the fine comic acting by the principals and the mandatory cute and talented youth. The dialog is very witty, very satirical and mostly subtle. Delicious fun is made of high school drama departments, the whole theater/movie industry (Shue does a fantastic job there), academics in general, inspirational teacher movies, musicals, life in the Southwest, small towns, fertility anxiety, racism, religion, and much else. There are a few pratfalls and body jokes – something for everyone, but generally the dialog is sophisticated and always completely original. On the downside, the story is not original nor are the characters. You can almost tell which of the two writers wrote which parts of the script. Still, the jokes are so good I had tears in my eyes. Amy Poehler (who played Hillary Clinton on SNL) had some show-stopping lines. The lyrics of the play’s songs were even funny. Any movie that makes me laugh that hard gets an A.

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