we’re going to hell for doing this play

Hamlet 2 is not funny. I feel I should get that out of the way. It wrung laughs out of me pretty consistently throughout, but more the queasy, agonized laughter of social discomfort and embarrassment than anything resembling joy or good cheer.

But I’m inclined to think this is to the good. Easy amusement comes from being able to detach yourself from characters — it’s funny to watch Inspector Clouseau fall down because he’s not remotely believable as a person. It’s much harder to watch Hamlet 2‘s Dana Marschz struggle through life and fail and be aware of his failure. Unlike the characters in Christopher Guest’s (much funnier) Waiting For Guffman, Dana isn’t in denial about his failures, and so he’s not so easy to mock. A high school drama teacher, he’s candid with his students about the fact that he just wasn’t very good as an actor, despite his passion for the craft. He’s equally upfront about his shortcomings as a teacher. In a dramatic gesture probably inspired the schlocky Hollywood teacher-dramas close to his heart (Dead Poets Society, Dangerous Minds), Dana kicks a metal trashcan across the room — smashing one of his students in the face. He tries to salvage the moment, even as he kneels next to the unconscious girl:

DANA: It was dramatic, it was visual….

OCTAVIO: It was stupid.

DANA: It was stupid, but it was also theatre.

Some critics seem not to have noticed Dana’s self-awareness, even though it’s crucial to the character and to the success of the film. Houston Press reviewer Robert Wilonsky claims that “Coogan appears to be doing Steve Carell doing Michael Scott, his character from The Office: the dumb, delusional American dolt who thinks he’s funnier than he is, smarter than he is and more important than he’ll ever be.” But is Michael Scott ever really capable of Dana’s naked, slightly amused climactic confession, “I’m a dick!”?

Dana’s lack of talent isn’t just a punchline — it actually threatens to impoverish his students and their school. When budget cuts must be made, the theater program is an easy choice because, as the principal enjoys pointing out, it doesn’t produce plays worth seeing. Fully aware that he’s a hack as both an actor and a teacher, Dana nevertheless passionately believes that even his lame program is better than no program. Saddled with a group of apathetic students (because all the other electives have already been cut), he decides to inspire them and save drama from the chopping block by putting on an ambitious original play. And what could be more ambitious than a sequel to English literature’s greatest enigma?

Dana’s writing is even more brutally mediocre than his acting, but his enthusiasm gradually wins over not only his drama students, but the metal shop students (who build the set), the Tucson Gay Men’s Choir (musical accompaniment), the football team (security), and even the father of one of his students, a literary lion who initially objects to the play on the grounds of its umremitting lousiness. Dana also wins over Elisabeth Shue, depicted here as someone who left acting because of all the cruelty and inhumanity in the Hollywood system. In reality, Ms. Shue has consistently made a movie or two a year since 1984, but here she stands in for the audience, for all audiences everywhere, people disillusioned with the possibilities of mainstream art who nonetheless secretly long to find something personal and real in their movies/theater. I had an odd, echoey sensation watching Shue in the audience of Dana’s grandiosely awful play — she was the only one laughing with delight, just as I have been the only one laughing in countless odd, bad, indigestible movies that for all their faults pleased me with their individuality and uncompromising vision.

And Dana’s vision is entirely his own. Where early in the film he’s staging earnest adaptations of Hollywood films like Erin Brockovich, with Hamlet 2 he’s finally laying it all on the line. I’m not talking about the heavy-handed conceit, jokily inserted into the film over and over again in various ways, that the play is actually about Dana’s need for his father’s approval. I’m talking about the absolute, unselfconscious sincerity of the musical numbers “Raped in the Face” and “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus!” — the latter, indeed, seems exactly like the kind of “updating” Jesus gets every few years from Christian youth leaders eager to reach a new generation. I’m talking about the unabashed gentleness of spirit that leads Dana to rewrite the outcome of Hamlet (with the help of a time machine) so that Ophelia lives and Hamlet and Laertes part as friends. I’m talking about the sheer visual delight of seeing Jesus not just walk but moonwalk on the water thanks to a cheap but effective stage trick.

I got a final, metacinematic jolt of pleasure while walking out of this film, which is in part about knee-jerk Christian protesters trying to close down the “blasphemous” play. As we left the theater, a grim-looking, shy woman handed us little slips of paper, muttering “Have a souvenir.” We looked at the papers, whose contents I relay for you here in their entirety.

Maybe you thought the movie Hamlet 2 was funny
but have you thought about this?

Jesus was NOT sexy

The dictionery defines “sexy” as “sexually interesting or exciting; radiating sexuality” (dictionery.com)

The Bible says there was nothing about Jesus that people would find Him attractive, let alone “sexy”!

Isaiah 53:2 says… “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”

Hmmm….doesn’t sound sexy to me.

He was unmarried, stayed unmarried, and did not have a sex
How do we know this? Scripture says He, Jesus, was sinless.
I John 3:5. Had He had a sex life, He would have been
immoral. And we know that He wasn’t.

Jesus was not sexy. He is HOLY

To infer that Jesus was sexy and to show the jesus
character in the movie the way he was portrayed is to
blaspheme and mock His Name.

Blasphemy means “the act of insulting or showing contempt or
lack of reverence for God” (Merriam-Webster.com) Hamlet 2 is
referred to as an “irreverent comedy” http://tinyurl.com/6b6l5t

To Mock means to make something an object of laughter

“Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man
soweth, that shall he also reap.” Ga 6:7

©2008 CJC This literature may only be reproduced in its entirety

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