A kiss may be just a kiss, but I think it can be sexier than porn. Always thought so. So I had some sighing moments during Were the World Mine, which has been touring the indie film festivals, raking in award after award, especially as an audience favorite. (Obviously, it has been an audience favorite at festivals favoring the young and the queer, but it has also delighted audiences not so young and not so queer.)
What no one seems to have mentioned is that the English teacher is a Witch.
The movie is set in small town America, with its big trees and narrow prejudices. (Somewhat integrated though, which is a modern change for the better.) The focus of this particular town is a prestigious all-boys’ prep school, renowned (for fifty-six years!) for its annual school play and, more recently, a winning rugby team. Are these things compatible? The gym teacher doesn’t think so – his arch-rival, the English teacher with the witchy red hair and the all-too-mischievous sparkle in her eyes wants the boys to give up practice time to read Shakespeare, and perform it, some of them in drag, some of them playing fairies. And she has given the role of Puck to one of the poor scholarship boys from the wrong side of the tracks, who happens to be queer, as everybody knows (no one talked about that when I was in high school, another era). His mom knows, his best friends know, the other kids know (and write “Faggot” on his locker), no doubt the star rugby player he craves knows, though he and his girlfriend pay no attention. It is one of those crises that mean so much to teens and so little a few years later.
The English teacher, who balks at nothing, gets her way: the boys are going to wear tights and wigs and wings, and they are going to perform “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (without understanding a word of the poetry), and Timothy is going to memorize Puck (stealing a few of Oberon’s lines because the screenwriter has no principles). And one magical night, as he stares at the page, the words start fading in and out of sight, and suddenly he finds a strange purple flower in his hand, the very pansy Puck sought out (at Oberon’s command), “love-in-idleness.” And it squirts. And those squirted … misbehave. Usually with those of their own sex.
Merry hell is accordingly wreaked on the straight-laced little town before, at the English teacher’s magical command, an indoor rain obtrudes on the festivities (I told you she was a Witch!) and all may “be as thou wast wont to be.” But now, remembering their strolls on the wild side, they have a much calmer, more amiable view of those across the street. And one person (I saw this coming a reel away) does not switch back….
Those who know the play well, in its many versions and interpretations (my favorites are the Frederick Ashton ballet and the Benjamin Britten opera), will get a kick out of the use of lines of the dialogue (especially the four lovers’ confrontations) for the feelings of the confused rugby players and their friends, and those who like male-male or female-female gooey screen kisses will have their fill (it doesn’t get heavier, but it’s sweet) – calf’s eyes of every conceivable variety are also featured – will enjoy this thing, and there is a rock-flavored score that I had no trouble ignoring (with musical numbers of endearing silliness), and there are messages about tolerance and what’s-so-terrible-about-love-of-any-flavor. And there are very pretty, rather talented young actors. (But the haggard mother and the witchy teacher were my favorites, and they are not so young.)
And once again sex-magic triumphs over hate. On screen if nowhere else.