Okay, y’all. Since Hamlet 2 first showed up on The Critical Condition as a Trailer Scaler, I’m doing a Trailer Scaler Redux.
In other words: I saw this movie on Saturday, and by God, I’ve got some things to say about it.
And I’ll say them. Oh yes, I’ll say them… after the jump.
MANY, MANY SPOILERS AHEAD!
Before I begin, let me take a deep breath. Maybe count to ten. I don’t want to overdo it…
… you guys?
Was a whirling vortex.
And I don’t mean it sucked in a delightful way, like Troll 2 or the recording career of The Pussycat Dolls.
I mean that at its very core, Hamlet 2 is a heinous, hateful film that made me both sad and angry. When we saw it, Andrew was sitting next to a metal pole, and at one point, he was clinging to it with white knuckles, literally hanging on for his life.
But if I broke down everything about this movie that made me crazy, we’d be here all day. And then we’d all be in a bad mood.
So instead, let me focus on the primary thing that sent me over the edge:
Writer-director Andrew Fleming and his co-writer Pam Brady treat every person in this movie with contempt.
The plot suggests an obvious set of bad guys: Failed actor-cum-drama teacher Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) gets told his high school’s drama program is being cut, partially because of budgetary concerns and partially because Marschz has been wasting everyone’s time with terrible stage adaptations of movies like Erin Brockovich.
So Dana decides to end his teaching career by producing his own play, Hamlet 2. We never see the full show, but we know it involves time machines, Shakespeare, orgies involving Hitler and Hillary Clinton, and a pop song about Jesus’ sexiness.
And we know this infuriates the locals.
The locals happen to be from Tucson, but really, they’re your basic assembly of religious zealots, media blowhards, and administrative jerks. They could be from any small town created by a movie with a blatant liberal agenda.
However, the opposing forces–the artists–are just as loathsome and ridiculous. Dana is such a self-obsessed bastard that when a New York Times reporter says he loves the play, Dana asks why he didn’t mention his performance specifically. Dana’s students are paper-thin caricatures, and they always behave like predictable jerks. (The prissy white girl, for instance, makes racial slurs, but she secretly wants to bone a Hispanic boy.)
Time and again, we’re supposed to laugh at these people and feel superior to them. Even Dana’s wife Brie (Catherine Keener), in an incongruously dramatic scene that has her leaving Dana for another man, is presented as a bitchy fool, since her new boyfriend is a sub-literate tool.
And sometimes, the jokes are not only superior, but also downright mean. There’s a subplot about Elisabeth Shue (playing herself) being inspired to come out of retirement after seeing a production of Hamlet 2. But when she calls her agent about returning to Hollywood, he doesn’t remember her. So she’s literally left walking three steps behind Dana, her new boyfriend, as he refuses to cast her in Hamlet 2′s Broadway run. Isn’t that funny, gang? She talks about the heartlessness of showbiz, then she experiences that heartlessness anew. And then she spinelessly capitulates to it, just so she can chase after a talentless prick who treats her disrespectfully. Ha! Women are dumb!
Oh, and that Broadway opening? Is a big middle finger to audiences. Because even though we don’t see most of Hamlet 2, the segments we do see are terrible. The play’s existence mocks the pretensions of “arty” theater, and its transfer to Broadway mocks commercial theater. Thus, the movie mocks theater of all kinds and, implicitly, the people who enjoy it.
And you know what? Yes. People sometimes enjoy crappy things. And sometimes they let themselves get treated badly, and they have bloated egos, and they behave stereotypically. But because this movie judges everyone to be morons–including the audience–Fleming and Brady tell us that they don’t see people doing anything except failing. They say they’re disgusted by the entire world. They’ve seen it all, from all sides, and they think everyone is fucking up.
And that’s just… sad. It’s sad and small-minded, and it makes for bitter, mirthless comedy. Even worse, it makes for mirthless comedy that believes it’s being intelligent. But it isn’t intelligent to hate everything. Cynicism doesn’t prove you’re sophisticated. It only proves that you need someone to love you.
That makes me sad for the filmmakers, but as an audience member, it makes me angry. Because that bitterness produced the “edgy” art I just endured.
Add the terrible pacing, cheap film stock, and unbearably hammy acting, and you get my disastrous night at the movies.
But at least there’s always Troll 2 to take the edge off.
(ETA: While I was taken in by H2′s marketing, I’ve learned that it left some people feeling icky. If only I’d been as keenly aware as they were!)